There’s an uncomfortable truth to life that many of us prefer not to dwell on: you and everyone you know will someday be dead, and all of your concerns and efforts, in the grand scheme of things, are pretty insignificant.
No one likes staring into the void of this uncomfortable truth, because you can easily slip into nihilism and think, “If everything is meaningless, I might as well either stay in bed or consume the best drugs I can find and go play in traffic.”
Throughout the ages, hope has been the main thing getting people out of bed in the morning and sustaining them through seriously tough times. Whether it’s for our own future or that of our family or community, hope is a powerful driver of human behavior.
Take Witold Pilecki, for instance. He had one hope: to see an independent Poland. That hope drove him to join the resistance movement and volunteer to be arrested by the Nazis in order to infiltrate Auschwitz and help the prisoners there. He then spent the next two years smuggling food and medicine into the camp and keeping up contact with the outside world.
After WWII, he continued fighting for Poland – this time against Communist forces. As a result, he was arrested and tortured for two years before being executed in 1948. Yet even while facing his imminent death, Pilecki had hope; he said that he could die with joy in his heart since he’d done everything he could to help liberate his people.
Pilecki’s story shows just how powerful hope can be when everything in the world seems bleaker than bleak. But the problem is that hope is intrinsically linked to the future, and for a good number of people in the world, the present is better than ever. Indeed, countless facts and figures show how rates of violence, racism, poverty, child mortality and war are at all-time lows worldwide, while human rights are on a steady upward trajectory.
As a result, there’s less of a sense of hope and more of a sense of having a lot to lose. This might help explain why rates of anxiety and depression in the US have been going up in the past thirty years while all of these improvements have been ongoing.
In the blinks ahead, we’ll look at some other reasons for our continued anxiety, and why hope may be the real culprit.