Saturday, January 17, 2009


~~ "Hope springs eternal in the human breast." --Alexander Pope ~~

~~ "Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tunes without the words and never stops at all." --Emily Dickenson ~~

Well, it's almost time. The dream of millions of Americans is soon to come true as Barack Obama assumes the office of the President of the United States.

It is still quite amazing to consider that he made it. There are a million technical reasons why (see "How Obama Got Elected" for starters), but the truth of it is that he rode to victory on a horse named Hope.

What exactly did this brand of hope promise and preach to the masses? Was it the theme of hard work and personal achievement leading to prosperity? Was it the timeless message that individual greatness is always possible in the United States of America, if one puts forth sincere and significant effort? Unfortunately, it was none of that. This campaign's message of hope was one that said if you vote for Obama, others will carry you to utopia... that you needn't work harder than your neighbor because he will be made to share his pie with you.

Beyond simply being the theme of his campaign, hope is the one thing that all of his supporters can relate to. They hope. True that some of their hopes are, putting it mildly, ambitious; but still, they hope. The detractors among us-- of which, I suppose I am one-- will say that this is not good... and it's hard to argue that point with so many people having only blind hope for mortgage payments and full fuel tanks.

~~ "The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than with their minds." --Will Durant ~~

For others, the hopes are more universal and far reaching. For example, there is the common hope that the end of the tyrannical Bush Administration will make the world like America more. I wish them luck with that one. In fact, I wish them luck with all of their hopes, because I know they are mostly doomed to crash and burn. The reason for this is simple-- they have nothing to support the hopes... no substance to link the hopes to reality. They have only The One.

~~ "A ship ought not to be held by one anchor, nor life by a singe hope." --Epictetus ~~

The storyline is that the hopeless have become the hopeful-- those in the dark wilderness have been brought to the light. Still, I can see only a dark future until some substance has been attached to the hopes. The hopeful masses will be strung along with platitudes and displays of public ceremony-- all designed to keep the air in the hope balloons, even as the air in our nation's financial and security balloons is escaping at an alarming rate.

~~ "Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man." --Friedrich Nietzsche ~~

All of this is not to say that hope is a bad thing. Quite the contrary. In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I am a creature of hope. It is hard-wired into me as much as breathing is. Sometimes, I am amazed at how powerful the emotion can be. In fact, I strongly believe that we cannot reach our full potential without a healthy dose of hope.

~~ "If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream." --Martin Luther King, Jr. ~~

We have to use hope responsibly, though. We have to fasten our hopes to our actions and to the reality that surrounds us, without becoming slaves to the idea that reality is binding as it is. Sound paradoxical? It may be, just a bit... but it is also the secret aspect of hope that releases its true power.

~~ "Sanity may be madness but the maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be." --Don Quixote ~~

Yes, I am saying we can affect the nature of our own reality through the power of hope. Furthermore, I assert that hope can bring an improved reality to not just ourselves, but others around us. Like a strong drug, hope can help with the maladies that ail us. Hope can bring about the things we see and wish for, deep inside ourselves.

~~ "Hope is the dream of a soul awake." -French Proverb ~~

Also like a drug, though, hope can only do these things if-- and only if-- we use it properly. What, then, is the proper way to use hope? As mentioned above, it must be tethered to other things. Hope is only one of the dogs that pull our sled. The others are things like work, vigilance, discipline, etc.

~~ "He that lives upon hope alone will die fasting." --Benjamin Franklin ~~

By combining hope with honest effort and sincere rationality, we can bring to fruition amazing and wonderful things. For people whose political heroes use hope as a campaign tactic, without tying it to substance, only disillusionment awaits. They will, at some point, reach the end of the line on the hope express... and reality will be there waiting for them. Disappointment will be followed by the natural affliction of such people: hopelessness.

~~ "The setting of a great hope is like the setting of the sun. The brightness of our life is gone." --Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~~

It is beyond ironic that hope will ultimately lead to hopelessness. I see it as making perfect sense, though. To describe these people as the "hopeless" who found hope in One man, you are really saying that they never had true hope to begin with. In fact, their false hopes were lassoed by a phony gimmick that came packaged in bright and shiny wrapping. The sad truth is that the gleaming knight these people have invested their very identities in is, himself, destined to meet an unforgiving reality head-on.

~~ "Hope is the first step on the road to disappointment." --Warhammer 40k, PC platform ~~

There is no doubt that the charlatans leading Obama's hope express have realized the power hope-- even false hope-- can hold over people. They know that to tap into the human soul's capacity to hope is to tap into an immense well-spring of visceral energy. They know, as all good puppeteers know, that people can be controlled by runaway, false hopes. That common folks can become uncommon working drones when properly motivated.

~~ "Strong hope is a much greater stimulant to life than any single realized joy could be. --Friedrich Nietzsche ~~

The real beauty-- and the real crime-- of it is that anyone who calls their scheme what it truly is will be labeled as cynical and anti-hope. After all, what kind of person would want to rain on the parade of so many hopeful citizens? Hope is nothing but good, you know... hope is a quality whose character must never be questioned, and anyone who does is... well, just plain mean.

~~ "Hope is the only universal liar who never loses his reputation for veracity." --Robert G. Ingersoll ~~

At the end of the day, though, the hopeful masses and the One of Hope himself will have to find a way to deliver on the promises. The start of the era of Obama seems to be bright enough, but for the light to keep shining, hope must be augmented with effort. The results of such are what history will use to judge Obama.

~~ "Hope makes for a good breakfast, but a poor supper." --Francis Bacon ~~

My humble suggestion for The One is to grow out of the demigod role and find a way to use the hope he has called for in real and concrete ways. Rather than leading through empty rhetorical flourishes and slogans, it is better by an order of magnitude to use hope as a real and dynamic force that operates hand-in-hand with hard work and reality-based expectations. Better to keep hope inside as a fire that keeps the elbow grease warm.

Looking to the future with optimistic eyes, all the while working methodically and honestly, is the only way to have true hope. Optimism is hope expressed as a philosophy. Churchill found it useless to be anything but an optimist, and others have similar thoughts.

~~ "I steer my bark with hope in the head, leaving fear astern. My hopes indeed sometimes fail, but not oftener than the forebodings of the gloomy." --Thomas Jefferson ~~

Tie your hopes to your own abilities and your own best intentions. Tie your hopes to your family and your God. Tie your hopes to your own hard work... and keep your eye always on the light that is the future. Think of it as such-- as a light-- but make yourself work toward the light, instead of just watching it and hoping you get to it through someone else's benevolence.

~~ "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. --Albert Einstein ~~

I believe strongly that hope is the one thing that can bring a human being closer to his or her full potential-- because it is only with hope that we can even see our full potential. In a world devoid of hope, life would be little more than a series of activities, the results of which may or may not matter, and the reasons for which are perfunctory and uninspired. Also in a world without hope, human suffering would be rightly thought to be never-ending, and humanity could not long survive, let alone thrive, with that notion.

~~ "The important thing is not that we can live on hope alone, but that life is not worth living without it." --Harvey Milk ~~

~~ "Were it not for hope the heart would break." --Scottish Proverb ~~

So, let's keep hope alive and well inside our best selves. Let's nourish our human heart with hope's power, while keeping ourselves honest with hard work, accountability, and integrity.

If we can just do that, then there is no reason to expect a new sign to be hung over America's door that proclaims:

~~ "All hope abandon, ye who enter here! --Dante Alighieri ~~


Thursday, January 01, 2009


That time again.

Time to start on the list-- however short or long-- of things we need to do to make ourselves better. Time to take a hard look at our lives and figure out what needs some minor tweaking (or major reconstruction).

Time for the New Year's Resolution(s).

For some people, that is.

I have long found it curious that someone would choose one short period per year to work on self improvement. It seems to subtract from the sincerity of the act of resolving, rendering it more an ephemeral fancy than something to be taken seriously.

~~ “It is always during a passing state of mind that we make lasting resolutions.” --Marcel Proust ~~

The sad truth is that for most people, the New Year's Resolution is a short-lived attempt to make one feel better about oneself. Usually, the thing is relegated to the dust-bin of personal history after a brief, if sincere, effort. It follows all the other faddish things that burned hot for a minute, before flaming out in the harsh cold of reality.

Still, there is no arguing the importance of seeking self improvement. Why, then, does our society reserve the process only for the new year? Perhaps it's indicative of a society that is too busy for daily personal reflection, but still recognizes the need for it and so makes it into a custom of sorts.

~~ “Making resolutions is a cleansing ritual of self-assessment and repentance that demands personal honesty and, ultimately, reinforces humility. Breaking them is part of the cycle.” --Eric Zorn ~~

They do get broken, don't they? Should we assume that is because people are inherently weak and unable to improve themselves? That is certainly true of some folks-- I can attest to that. In the macro sense, though, I'm not so sure it is that simple.

As humans, we are hard-wired to think about ourselves. Call it selfishness or call it a survival mechanism-- it is real. We always think of and look out for number one. So it really shouldn't be a trick to figure out what needs a'changin' and then change it. Right?

~~ “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.” --Benjamin Franklin ~~

Sounds simple enough. Why, then, do the resolutions continue to break like fine crystal on a granite counter? Why do people go through the rituals and effort and expense-- only to fail again and again?

I say it's because of the once a year timetable. How is one supposed to be proficient in the process of successful resolving with only one time per year to practice it?

~~ “Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.” --Oscar Wilde ~~

A writer cannot compose one piece of work per year and remain in top form. A football player can't play one game per year and expect to be a champion.

No. The truth is that one has to make resolution a regular part of the life cycle. One must practice it in all things, great and small-- making it very much a part of one's regular operation. The all-important fire of Resolve will burn only in the heart that keeps its flames stoked.

~~ “Be stirring as the time, be fire with fire, threaten the threatener, and outface the brow of bragging horror; so shall inferior eyes, that borrow their behaviours from the great, grow great by your example and put on the dauntless spirit of resolution.” –William Shakespeare ~~

It is through the practice of simple, daily resolutions that greater ones will succeed. It is only in making Resolve a personal sacrament that we will achieve the elusive improvement that all people should seek.

How can one begin to get in this desirable and beneficial habit? At the risk of over-simplification, I think that resolving to resolve would be a good place to start.

~~ “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.” --Abraham Lincoln ~~

There it is, then: we practice to succeed by resolving to succeed in all things. The little ones do matter-- I cannot stress that enough, can I?

I certainly do not intend this as an advice column to be taken as gospel from someone who knows "The Truth." The fact is, I find myself caught up in the resolution struggle as much as anyone. It's just that I long ago started asking myself about the value of doing it once a year... and I have been working on it since then. Just trying to think of it often is half the battle.

~~ “Clothe with life the weak intent, let me be the thing I meant.” --John Greenleaf Whittier ~~

For me as a Catholic, the season of Lent is an amazing time to practice Resolve. It is marvelously satisfying to me to take the forty-day journey into myself every year... seeking to come out of it better and somehow cleaner than before.

~~ “Resolve, and thou art free.” --Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~~

Even during ordinary days and weeks, though, we can and should practice. Resolve is a truly powerful weapon that we humans possess-- even if many of us do not yet know how to use it. Once we do, though, great things happen.

~~ “You may be whatever you resolve to be.” --Thomas Stonewall Jackson ~~

With true Resolve, one can begin to see obstacles as invitations to courage.

~~ “Either I will find a way, or I will make one.” --Philip Sidney ~~

Finally, once one learns to use Resolve, life becomes much more under the control of the self... and less under the control of chaos.

~~ “Those who resolve to conquer or die, are rarely conquered.” --Pierre Coneille ~~

Happy New Year!!



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