Sunday, March 6, 2016

Dying of Hopelessness

"Hope Springs Eternal"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

I just read a fascinating article by the renowned scholar, Noam Chomsky, who suggests that Trump is winning so much support from the less-educated, working-class white males in this country because these are people who are dying of prolonged hopelessness. They have lost all hope of living out an “American Dream.” They are working harder and getting paid less, they feel abandoned by their government and other institutions. They feel as if there is no place for them in contemporary society and have lost a sense of self worth and self esteem. They have abandoned all hope for a better future and so they are willing to turn to a “bombastic, authoritarian demagogue” like Donald Trump in the hope that he will fix it all, make them winners instead of losers, and restore them to their rightful place in this nation once again.

When I read that article this morning I also found it very interesting that for almost every age, racial and ethnic group in America, life expectancy has increased over the past few decades, but not so for poorer, working class white males - their life expectancy is shortening. Many die of suicide, liver diseases caused by alcohol abuse and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids. In a very real and very literal sense, they are dying of hopelessness.

In Dante’s famous poem, The Divine Comedy, there is an inscription over the gates of hell that reads:

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!

I don’t think “hell” is a place you go after you die, I think “hell” is where you live in this life when you have abandoned all hope.

The Dalai Lama puts it this way:

No matter what sort of difficulties or how painful our experiences,
if we lose hope, that’s the disaster.

I think there is probably a lot of hopelessness in America today, not only among poorer white men but among lots of people everywhere. But I wonder what it is that everyone is hoping for: a big bank account, a nice house, a fast car, an exotic vacation, a world without turmoil? I wonder, even if these things did happen, would life’s problems go away and everything be fine? And what if these “hoped for things” in life don’t happen and aren’t likely to ever happen?  Then I guess one might be tempted to abandon all hope and to die of hopelessness.

Personally, I don’t think “hoping” for a better tomorrow has anything to do with what genuine hope is really all about.

I am reminded of something Buddhist monk and author, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said:

In everyday life we are always looking for the right conditions
 that we don’t yet have to make us all happy
and we ignore what is happening right in front of us.
We wait and hope for the magical future moment
when everything will be as we want it to be
forgetting that life is available only in the present moment.

As I see it, hope is that ability to see that all is well even when life seems to be not so well.

Life is messy, chaotic and difficult – terrorists attack, people get sick and struggle financially, they lose jobs, feel abandoned at times; and when these things happen we often hope for that better magical future moment when everything will be as we want it to be. But genuine hope is the ability to stay grounded in the midst of chaos, to keep focused in the present moment where we can discover that in the midst of all the mess and muck of life, Love abides throughout the entire universe and we are never alone. “God” abides and we have one another – to know this is to hope.

As I see it, today we live in an era where, perhaps more than any other time in history we need to be genuinely “hopeful” lest we all die of our hopelessness.

Emily Dickenson once wrote:

Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul.
And sings the tune without the words.
And never stops at all.

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