My latest blog post for The Jewish Journal:
War. Terrorism. Riots. Crime. Unemployment. Political corruption. Intolerance.
There are many reasons to give up hope.
If you give up hope, then you give up on the future. If you give up on the future, then you give up on life.
Don’t do it. Don’t give up. As long as you’re still alive, you’re never defeated unless you give up.
Maybe you’re afraid. Heartbroken. Angry. Confused. There’s a lot of that going around. You’ve got plenty of company.
You can get through all of it, as long as you haven’t lost hope.
If you give up hope, what will you accomplish? Nothing. It’s guaranteed.
If you persevere, what will you accomplish? Maybe nothing. Maybe something. There’s no guarantee, but it’s better than guaranteed failure.
You might end up doing the one thing that tips the balance in favor of goodness. Isn’t it worth a try? If you fail, you’ve lost nothing. If you succeed, your loved ones and the world will be better off.
The future is not set. God has put it in our hands to make the future by our choices and actions. Our options are sometimes limited by what’s happened in the past, but we are always free to do the right thing in the present.
Don’t worry about yesterday. It’s gone. You can’t change what happened yesterday, but you can give it a different meaning and a new value by what you do today, tomorrow, and the next day. You can reframe yesterday to turn a past evil into a future good.
Most of what happens in the world is beyond your control. However, some things are in your control. Even if you can’t solve all the world’s problems, at least make a point of doing what you can:
- You can’t change human nature, including your nature. But you can change how you think, how you act, and to some degree, how you feel.
- You can’t eliminate hatred, but you can resolve not to give in to hatred yourself.
- You can’t eliminate poverty, but you can give some of your time and money to help the needy.
- You can’t eliminate injustice, but you can act justly and oppose injustice when it appears.
- You can’t eliminate hysteria and irrationality, but you can try to stay calm and rational.
- You can’t eliminate your own limitations, but you can use what you’ve got to be your best self.
- You can’t live forever as the person you are now, but your actions can create goodness that will survive beyond your final breaths.
Hope will keep you going. But going to where?
Albert Einstein wrote that “the most important factor in giving shape to our human existence is the setting up and establishment of a goal.”
You need a worthy goal, something that can inspire you and others. When you find a goal, ask yourself:
- Is it honest? If it’s dishonest, it’s neither worthy nor inspiring. Play it straight.
- Is it realistic? William Penn (the founder of Pennsylvania) advised to “hope not beyond reason, for that shews more desire than judgment.” Long shots pay the most and succeed the least, but sometimes they’re worth it. Just be aware of what you’re doing.
- Who will it help? And how will it help them?
- Who will it hurt? For things like volunteering with the elderly, the answer might be “nobody.” However, the question is not “Do I think some people are hurt?” The question is “Do they think they’re hurt?” Everyone’s happiness matters, even people you don’t like.
- Does it help more people than it hurts? Then it does more good than bad. As long as it doesn’t violate anyone’s rights, it’s a worthy goal.
Hope is an essential part of Judaism. Indeed, in certain respects, we invented it. Earlier faiths saw the world as cyclical. The future was the same as the past and people were prisoners of their fate. Judaism revealed that the future didn’t have to be the same as the past: it could be better. We weren’t prisoners of our fate: however difficult at times, we could choose the path that we followed. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said it very well:
“We are free because we face an open future: open because it depends on us. We know the beginning of our story, but we do not yet know how it will end … History without freedom equals tragedy. History plus freedom equals hope. Judaism is the voice of hope in the conversation of humankind.”