Hope – finding the courage to work for something because it is good.
One of the greatest icons of the 20th century died December 17, 2011. Vaclev Havel was a playwright, a moralist, and a President, among many other things. The fact that he could combine all three of those with integrity should offer a sign of his extraordinary nature.
In the elegies that I’ve read of him in the last few days, what most people miss is that he was above all a theologian, even if he didn’t believe in God. Consider these quotes
“As soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it.”
“Modern man must descend the spiral of his own absurdity to the lowest point; only then can he look beyond it. It is obviously impossible to get around it, jump over it, or simply avoid it.”
With such thoughts he led a revolution. He inspired not because he had the best political ideas, but because he taught people that it was possible to believe in themselves and live lives of integrity. While humanistic, his was not an individualistic manifesto. He did not hold to the idolatry of human understanding, but believed through our humanity we could find ultimate meaning in the world.
Most importantly, he taught us about hope. In his Letters to Olga, written to his wife from his time in a hard-labor Communist prison, he offers a different intrepretation of hope:
“Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.”
“Hope is not prognostication. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
How have we lost touch with this central truth? How many feel betrayed because the Obama administration did not bring about a new state of the world? How can we not answer its clarion call to find ourselves the courage to work for something because it is good?
However much we may become disappointed in our leaders for not exhibiting this kind of depth, surely Havel’s message is that we much first look to ourselves. What have we done to nurture hope in the world?