Hope, Our Common Denominator

hope

Our realities are splintered in Nigeria—along class, religious, ethnic, and other lines.

On the way to my hometown from Lagos for the Christmas break, I slept through most of the trip, but a few kilometers into the town, I opened my eyes and saw fog over the trees by the road. The chilly winds had not yet blown over Lagos in the days preceding Christmas, and Lagosians wondered if the harmattan had become another casualty of 2016. The faces at home, however, were already ashen, dry from the harshness of the harmattan. The economic recession that plagued the country seemed to have moved in the same direction as the dusty winds, enveloping small towns on its journey to the big city.

I only know of how hard things have become because I dwell in between the exuberant hope of Lagos’ upwardly mobile circles and the despair in the rest of the country. Twice, over the festive season, in Lagos, I heard people say that things aren’t as bad in the country as they seem and wanted to transport the speakers from the bubble of this vibrant city to my sleepy hometown. A part of me wanted to criticize them for being myopic, for thinking their experience was typical of the rest of Nigerians.

But the mind knows only what the eyes see. Yes, it’s necessary to imagine the lives of people different from us so we can be good, empathic humans, but there’s also harm in thinking people who can’t yet see others as others are, are evil. This almost always widens those splintering gaps between us to the point where they become gullies. But we are closer to one another than we think.

Despair can cripple the imagination and blind us, limiting our vision to the fears of the present. That unflappable belief that what lies ahead is better than what is behind is difficult to preach in the face of a crumbling economy and rising political tensions around the world, but hope is the thing we cannot let go of.

Many at the start of the year usually display this hope, this higher level of optimism. Ends and beginnings are like points on a Mobius strip. There’s really no difference in the way the days run, but somehow, by placing a marker in time, we are able to generate optimism, to look up for instructions or guide ourselves into better living.

“Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice;” the writer Junot Diaz said in the New Yorker, “it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as ‘imaginative excellence.’  Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible.”

Even I, usually skeptical of the feel-good-nature of the start of the New Year, have set aside goals, lists of things I’d like to get done by the end of the year. This time last year, I had no plans beyond seeing the next day. Now I’ve added more material dreams to the basic necessities, but the desire remains the same: to live better. And I know I’m not the only one doing this. Both the millionaire in the mansion in Ikoyi and the starving civil servant in Osun state look forward to a better 2017.

We can expend energies arguing about the different degrees of better, but we all share the need to look in the future and see ourselves in better conditions than that which we’re in today. To lose that ability is to lose all verve to live. The least we can do, in the face of difficulty, is hope.

© IfeOluwa Nihinlola 2017

IfeOluwa Nihinlola writes essays and short stories and has been featured in online magazines such as Afreada, Omenana, Klorofyl, and Litro. He works as an editor and is an inaugural fellow of aKoma’s Amplify fellowship. He is a fan of Zadie Smith, is looking for a replacement for Pringles as muse, and blogs at ifenihinlola

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/candle-light-dark-hope-flame-group-813005/

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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25 thoughts on “Hope, Our Common Denominator

  1. ha me too; I’m normally somewhat cynical about the optimism on first days of the year, but this year I actually went the extra length to write down achievable goals for myself. Here’s to a better 2017!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting. In my opinion, the ability that Ife refers to is this:

      “… to ‘look’ in the future and see ourselves in better conditions.”

      Hope as used in this piece is a noun; it isn’t an ability. It is:
      “That unflappable belief that what lies ahead is better than what is behind…”

      To ‘have’ hope, you need ‘ability’ …

      Like

  2. This piece is so well written and so thoughtful! Thank you, Timi, for introducing us to Ife, and thank you Ife for sharing your thoughts.

    I like the way you start, with the economic recession blowing into town like the dusty, cold wind.

    We may want to empathize with the concerns of others, “but the mind knows only what the eyes see.”

    “… by placing a marker in time, we are able to generate optimism.” That is so true. Even the small markers help generate optimism. Each morning is a new beginning with hope for a better day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s really amazing how just keeping the small markers of time in mind can make us feel better. The mere thought of the rains, or summer, or harmattan, can give us reasons to see through otherwise bleak seasons. And there are a few things as refreshing in the world as the promise of the sun signaling the start of a new day.

      Thank you for reading, and for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My partner and I were just discussing this, hope vs optimism, the meaning, and so it is interesting that you define hope as a ‘higher level of optimism’. Has a nice ring to it, and yet something I’ll have to contemplate a little more.

    Thank you for your thoughtful piece. Some wonderful writing here, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Krista Tippett statements about the difference between hope and optimism sort of helps me. It’s from her conversation in On Being with Pico Iyer. I’ll just past her full quote below:

      Yeah. I never use the word “optimism.” And I know — I have met people who use “optimism” the way I use the word “hope,” but for me, “optimism” sounds like kind of wishful thinking. “We’ll hope for the best.” “We’ll see the sunny side.” And for me, hope as a force, as a resource, is reality-based. It sees the darkness. It takes that seriously. It sees the possibility for good and redemption. And takes that seriously. And it’s a choice.

      And it’s also — it’s an action. It’s something you put into practice, and I do love this convergence of our need for virtues in the world, of our need for tools to pin aspiration to action, and also what we’re learning through neuroscience about how what you practice you become. And that goes for being more patient, being more hopeful, being more compassionate just like it goes for any other skill.

      And so I think you can be — you can choose to be hopeful, which is a more courageous — far more courageous choice than cynicism. I mean, cynicism is really easy. It’s never surprised or disappointed. And doesn’t lift a finger to change anything. And but hope can be — we can develop spiritual muscle memory. The more we do it the more we — and it’s really not about feeling it. Doesn’t have to be about feeling it in the first instance. But it can become instinctive.

      The last part about cynicism did a number on me when I listened to it last year.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. There is not much reasonable hope that I will ever have less pain and more mobility, but I have hope that my life will still have purpose by my finding ways to help others within my new limits from aging. Victor Frankel counseled others in the German concentration camps. He writes that those that had a reason to hope lived. For some it was to see a loved one again, some it was using a talent, some the possibility of helping others. Different hopes for different folks.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “…those that had a reason to hope lived. For some it was to see a loved one again, some it was using a talent, some the possibility of helping others.”

      This sums it up perfectly.

      Can others hope on your behalf that you’ll have less pain in 2017? Because, that’s what I’m doing Eileen. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Technically it’s “a dry, dusty easterly or northeasterly wind on the West African coast, occurring from December to February.” But the word is used colloquially to refer to the time when the wind blows in as if it were a season.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. “but there’s also harm in thinking people who can’t yet see others as others are, are evil.” Agree but would add there are many ways of seeing people and even in that there’s probably less pure evil than we think. There seems to be no “right” way to see others. People aren’t so easily understood and anyone who thinks they know another’s heart is fooling themselves. A great post. Very thought-provoking.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There seems to be no “right” way to see others.

      But if there wrong ways to see others (for I think any way of viewing people that demeans them should be considered wrong) perhaps there are therefore many right ways of seeing. I’m usually wary of the way I see people, the assumptions I make about them before I really get to know them, because they’re usually reflectors of my own prejudice. And I do agree that to think we can know another’s heart is to fool ourselves.

      Thank you for reading, Adrienne.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ‘We can expend energies arguing about the different degrees of better, but we all share the need to look in the future and see ourselves in better conditions than that which we’re in today. To lose that ability is to lose all verve to live. The least we can do, in the face of difficulty, is hope’

    So so true just add patience to hope and you’ll be able to take one step after the other without completely loosing optimism in life.

    Liked by 3 people

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