Hope and Fear

Hope strengthens, fear kills. This is the mantra and philosophy of MacKayla Lane, the heroine of Karen Marie Moning's Fever series. I can't tell you how often I've thought these words to myself. They are so true. And it took a paranormal fantasy series to explain it to me. I probably always understood this concept, but I couldn't have articulated it so articulately. Hope strengthens. Fear kills.

Without hope, there is despair. Despair, is the absence of hope. It is the thought that nothing will get better and that whatever hell we are experiencing will go on without end. I've been there. I know. It is the most awful place to be. What’s the point?  It doesn’t matter.  Whatever. I don’t care.  Lack of hope is the ultimate apathy, and, as my favorite guru, Danielle LaPorte, tells us, lack of passion is fatal.

But the opposite is true as well. Hope is the wellspring of strength. When we have hope, we have the power to fight on, to continue through hell, knowing it will end, believing there is something better yet to come. I've often felt that any pain or discomfort or inconvenience is tolerable when I know that it will end and, preferably, when it will end. Hope is a promise. It is unfulfilled potential. It is a projection of optimism that all will be well and maybe even better than before.

But I don't think hope springs eternal. I think we want hope to spring eternal, but it doesn't, always. Sometimes, hope fails us. And while maybe in theory where there is life there is hope, life ceases when hope dies, just as hope ceases when life ends. Life and hope are inexorably bound. Without hope, fear has a chance to come in, put its feet up, and take over our minds.

And we know without a doubt that fear kills. Think about panic--the absence of rational thought, the inability to think our way out of a bad situation so that it subsumes us. I will never forget my first experience of panic. When I was young I was swimming in a pool and someone threw a rubber boat into the water. I'm afraid of the water. I was under the boat, and when I went to come up and breathe, I couldn't lift the boat, even though it didn’t weigh much. The bottom had created a suction seal against the surface of the water. I panicked. I tried and tried to lift it, to no avail. I tried to outswim it, but I couldn’t. Finally, when I was seeing grey spots in front of my eyes, it occurred to me to swim around it. In retrospect, it was almost inconceivable that I could have drowned because I couldn't think through the panic to swim around the boat. But it’s true. Fear kills.

And there is another side to fear and hope. Fear motivates. Hope inspires. Both will get our asses in gear and cause us to take action. But it's been my experience that action motivated by fear is much less successful than that inspired by hope. It is so much more pleasant to be inspired by hope than motivated by fear too. Fear causes us to run from things. Hope causes us to run to things. It is more desirable to run toward something than away from it, if for no other reason than it is hard to outrun ourselves, which is most often what we run from.

Inspiration comes from within. Motivation comes from outside. One feels effortless. The other can feel like a burden. We are motivated to earn money, achieve professional and social success, accomplish goals and objectives. These aren't bad things, of course, but they are the reflections of others that give substance to our lives. On the other hand, we are inspired to be of service, to love, to be useful, to connect with each other and with something bigger than ourselves. We are inspired to create: art, music, books, excellence in all areas. Inspiration is generative. Motivation is productive. There is a difference. Like my favorite story of the three bricklayers building the cathedral. Look it up. It's something of a Rorschach test. What you get from the story probably says something about your attitude and ability to see beyond yourself and something about whether you are called to action through the motivation of fear or the inspiration of hope.

Hope strengthens. Fear kills. Hope inspires. Fear motivates. I ask myself often where I am on the spectrum between the two.  I work to discern whether I’m being motivated by fear or inspired by hope. Sometimes I can’t actually tell the difference, which seems odd, but I know it’s true.  Fear has a way of making us rationalize decisions that do not serve us. One way to tell is by the fruits—does a decision or action make us feel happy, or just relieved? Are we filled with passion and joy, or just the absence of pain, uncertainty and doubt? Are we living in the wreckage of our futures, or the glory of what we hope will manifest for us?

Right now, I’m feeling wonderfully inspired by Mac and Barrons’ story to grab life by the horns and proceed full throttle—hopeful that not only is this not as good as it gets, but that the best is definitely ahead of me.

Where are you in this moment?