By Dilkhush Panjwani *
George Clooney said in a recent interview: “It’s been a crappy year. It has. But we’re gonna get through it. I believe that with my whole heart. If I didn’t believe that I don’t know how we’d raise kids in this world. We’re gonna get through these things and my hope and my belief is that we will come out better.” We too must hope and believe that tomorrow will be the dawn of a better future.
The coronavirus pandemic is not the only crisis faced by humanity. Our world is faced with conflicts, poverty, hunger, grief, physical and emotional illnesses, unemployment, economic hardship, loneliness, turmoil, racism, global warming and many more crises.
Why is hope so important during the present unfolding coronavirus pandemic? Fear stemming from uncertainty is prevalent in the minds of people. Hope might be an antidote to fight this fear. Hope gives the mental energy to continue the fight against the coronavirus. Without hope, we are inclined to give up the struggle. But recognizing and accepting the hopelessness of the crisis situation, we might be able to transcend it and find a solution. Having hope is essential to the very act of being human. “There is not life without hope, nor authentic hope without solid trust in God, the source of each true hope” (Pope Francis).
What is hope? “Hope is the dream of a waking man” (Aristotle). Hope can be defined as seeing on the bright side of a problem and envisioning challenges as opportunities for positive change. In a spiritual context, hope can mean trusting that great things will happen with faith in the higher power. Universally, hope means a yearning for things to change for the better, and to desire that better condition very much.
Hope has been the subject of many books, including ‘The Audacity of Hope’ (Barack Obama), ‘Images of Hope’ (Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI), ‘Crossing The Threshold Of Hope’ (Pope John Paul II), and ‘Where Hope Takes Root’ (H. H. the Aga Khan). Hope also features notably in mythology and religion.
“Hope and fear are two sides of the same coin” (Shannon McKenna). So, one could choose to live a life with fear, or flip the coin and fill your life with hope. Hope and fear are also two ends of the same spectrum. Fear is darkness, hope is the light. Fear and hopelessness are opposites of hope. Intrinsic in every hope is fear, and in every fear, there is hope. Fear is the lock, and hope is the key to your heart. What have you got to lose? Only the suffering in your heart due to fear! Victorian poet Arthur Hugh Clough wrote: “If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars” in his poem ‘Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth’.
To have hope is to want an outcome that makes your life better in some way. It can not only help make a tough present situation more bearable but eventually, it can also improve our lives because envisioning a better future motivates you to take the steps to make it happen.
Hope is a part of everyone’s life. Everyone hopes for something. Hope is an integral part of being human. Hope facilitates us to identify what we want in our future. It is part of the storyline about our lives that we have all contemplated inside our minds. “The right to hope is the most powerful human motivation I know” (H. H. the Aga Khan).
Does hope make us more resilient? Resilience is a dynamic process that enables us to bounce back and successfully adapt to severe adversity during a crisis. Resilience involves both the process of preventing or mitigating health problems after adversity, and the process of rapid recovery from stress-related mental problems. Hope and positivity help us make better health and lifestyle choices, thus boosting our immune system and protecting against the inflammatory damage of stress.
Is hope the common denominator of happiness, enthusiasm, resilience and positivity? Does hope bring about social change? Hope stimulates resilience, positive self-worth, positive emotions, cognitive re-evaluation of the situation, building secure attachments, setting a purpose in life, and a spiritual outlook, thereby helping us overcome our fears, and making the struggle a virtue of trying hard and striving to achieve something. Hope can make present obstacles much easier to bear and overcome. It also gives us a moment of happiness when we feel sad and lonely.
Has hope given scientists the impetus to find a cure and a vaccine for COVID-19? New effective vaccines are on the horizon, bringing hope of defeating the coronavirus. “I feel like I didn’t just get a vaccine, I got a shot of hope,” one American doctor said. In the meantime, let us keep ourselves, our families, our parents, our grandparents, and our communities safe. Let us honor our dedicated frontline healthcare and essential services providers for their selfless sacrifices. Let us adhere to all the safety precautions and public health measures in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus and keep hospital wards and intensive care units from becoming overcrowded with critical COVID-19 patients. Let us hope, that in the final analysis, our better nature will prevail.
This year, rather than despair over how celebrations of Christmas and other festivals have been different, let us embrace these as extraordinary, as it will forever remain in our memories. The pandemic has changed the way we celebrate holidays, reminding us that despite the lockdown, joy can still be found in friendship, kindness, compassion, and generosity. Let the holidays spent in our homes be full of hygge and bring some lagom into our hectic life. Let us rejoice in the true spirit of Christmas, let us make this a time of introspection and reflection, let us renew our faith, let us be more charitable toward the poor and the needy, let us spread goodwill, let us be grateful for all our blessings, and let us strive to fight the dark forces of hatred, racism, greed, lust, envy, polarization, and extremism.
Together, let us reconstruct our thinking and nurture in our hearts the virtues of hope, compassion, love, contentment, gratitude, and forgiveness, and embrace our fellow human beings as one of us. Let us ignite a spark of ‘divine frenzy” in our minds. Humanity needs peace on earth and goodwill to all, now more than ever. Above all, let us hope for a safer, happier, healthier, prosperous, peaceful, and better normal New Year.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not express the views or opinions of people, institutions or organizations that he is affiliated with in a professional or personal capacity.
* Dr. Dilkhush Panjwani is a highly qualified psychiatrist who is an assistant professor at University of Toronto’s department of psychiatry and consultant psychiatrist at Trillium Health Partners. Dr. Panjwani has vigorously promoted dignity for those suffering from mental-health issues and workplace injuries, dedicated his career to helping patients without access to care, and advocated to end the social stigma of mental illness. He has also promoted pluralism by connecting diverse community organizations and initiating interfaith and intercultural dialogue. He was appointed to the Order of Ontario in recognition of his outstanding contribution and achievements.