THE BLOG
09/19/2012 12:27 am ET | Updated Nov 19, 2012

What's Hope Got to Do With It?

Lately, I've been thinking about the role that hope plays in the human experience. I've been of mixed minds. Is hope useful, or is it a waste of time? Does hope give people anything substantial to cling to, or is it like cotton candy, sweet and satisfying in the moment, but leaving one with nothing more than a sugar high in its aftermath?

Like many, over the course of my life, I've spent a fair amount of time hoping for things. As a child, during the summer, I hoped for the sound of the ice cream man, bells jingling from the handles of his pedal-powered ice cream/bicycle, and like the Pied Piper, enticing every child in the neighborhood to beg their mom for a nickel to buy an ice cream bar before he disappeared down the next block. I hoped for recess and summer vacation. And I hoped for the streetlights to stay on just a bit longer at night so I'd have more time to stay outside and catch fireflies.

In high school, I hoped for a certain boy to ask me to the dance, to make the cheerleading squad, and to pass algebra. (Math was never my thing.) I hoped to pass my driver's test and for my dad to trust me with the family car. In college, I hoped to get good grades and someday get married, have children, find meaningful work and live a happy life.

And for the most part, it all turned out more or less as I'd hoped, but not without my fair share of disappointments and challenges. But did any of these things happen because I hoped they would? Or did they come about because of something else? And what about the disappointments? Was all my hoping for naught? Like the lyric in the Tina Turner song, I'm left wondering, "What's hope got to do with it?"

Four years ago, Barack Obama ran for president on the theme of "Hope and Change."

"Keep hope alive. A better day will come," he counseled.

Today, those who oppose him use that line to mock him. "How's that hopey changey thing working out?" they sneer. Good question!

If someone is drowning and you throw them a lifeline called hope , do they have anything to cling to, or is it like handing them cotton candy? Will they simply have a few feel-good moments before they drown, or will it give them the will to stay afloat just long enough to find a log to grab onto and make it back to shore?

If someone is diagnosed with a serious illness, does hope play a role in their recovery? If they receive a prognosis of six months left to live, should they surrender all hope of ever getting better and prepare to die, or will hope actually activate the healing process?

Today the world is heaving with change and transformation. It's hard to see the transformative part of the equation because we're still in the throes of upheaval. Old systems are unraveling, but they do not die easily. We are the ones who are here on planet Earth in this time of massive change. What are our hopes for the future? Should we hope for a better world? A peaceful world? The end of hunger? A reversal of climate change? A renewable source of energy to power the world's needs? A cure for cancer? What should we hope for? And when we get right down to it, will hoping make it so?

I used to think that hope was a sinking ship and it was better not to climb on board. I saw hope as a form of denial, an excuse for not taking action. One could always hope things turned out but never get around to doing anything about it. I thought that hope was the currency of the lazy or those who lacked courage.

But recently, I realized something about hope that has me see it a bit differently. I think there actually is a role for hope in the scheme of things. While hope alone is not enough to effect change, it does have a key role to play in the process. Here's my case for hope:

For anyone who's ever felt like all was lost and the situation was hopeless, life feels pretty bleak. In a state of hopelessness, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It is a dark, dense energy that sucks the life out anyone who's ever been there. It is the energy of depression and despair. Not a place anyone ever wants to be, and yet millions of people live in a state of hopelessness on a daily basis.

For the hopeless, hope is a match in a dark tunnel, a moment of light, just enough to reveal the path ahead and ultimately the way out. Hope is a flashbulb that lights up a room, revealing everything in it, and then the room goes black again, leaving an imprint in our memory of the hidden landscape. Hope gives a glimpse of possibility not seen in the darkness. Hope shows the way, but for an instant only. We must act on it or it becomes nothing more than a pleasant memory, a feel-good moment.

Hope is the mother of change. It is the womb of discontent from which change is born. Hope is the spark that lights the fire of inspiration and imagination. It's hope that ignites the flame, but we are the ones who must add fuel to the flames to keep the fire alive. It's our commitment, passion and intention that transforms that spark into the raging fire

Barack Obama was right when he urged us to believe in hope and change. He never said we wouldn't have to work for it or that it would be easy. But change begins with a spark of hope in a possibility that is not yet made manifest. It is through our belief in that possibility and our intention to have it become reality that hope can turn into change. I think he was also correct when he said it was all about us. It's about us working together to affect the changes we seek.

For anyone committed to transformation, we know it's not just about one person or only for the few. It's not just for me or for you, but for an entire world that excludes no one. This kind of massive, global transformation requires that we see every person as a necessary and important part of the whole. It matters whether or not we view the world through the lens of our own self-interest or whether we see the necessity to come together and work toward the common good.

Will we ever see it in our lifetimes? Who knows? But we can hope for it. And we can hold that hope in our hearts and then work for it. Work for it right where you are. Vow to make the world around you just a little bit better because you are here. I hope that for you and for those who follow in your footsteps. I hope that for all of us.

What are your thoughts about hope? I'd love to hear from you. Please leave a comment in the space below or come pay a visit to my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul.

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Blessings on the path.

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