“He Gave Up All Hope of Living”

I once had a cousin, very much older than me, who was a combat soldier in World War II.  He told my brother that he began the war so terrified he would die he could barely function.  After a while, though, he gave up all hope of living and became profoundly convinced he could not survive the war.  Only after he gave up hope, he said, was he  “able to endure combat and fight back without going crazy from fear”.

Hope breeds fear.  Fear breeds hope.  At least it seems that way to me.  I think in order to dispense with one, we must dispense with both.

At work, the hope of a raise or promotion seems to provoke anxiety — in some sense, fear — that we will not get one.  In mating, the hope he or she will accept us seems to provoke fear that he or she will not.  In the market, the hope we will take advantage of someone seems to provoke fear we ourselves might be taken advantage of.  In life, hope for life seems to provoke fear of death.  Indeed, in nearly every area, hope and fear seem bound to each other.

If I am right that hope and fear are bound to each other, then then that can be seen.  It is because I believe I have observed the link between them while meditating that I think they are bound.  Put differently, there is no reason you should take my word for these things.  You can go look for yourself.

13 thoughts on ““He Gave Up All Hope of Living”

  1. Hoping is dangerous and yet I’m not inclined to give up either hope or fear.
    From my way of thinking giving these up would be to disassociate yourself, to become detached and this it seems means that one has succumbed to and be defeated by fear?

    In some way this reminds me of Nietzsche’s idea expressed in the famous (and I think misleading) quote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” (however that which does not kill us sometimes cripples and maims! etc.).

    Despite my own reservations about that quote the idea seems to be that in order to get to the highest of heights we have to endure hardship and this hardship has real value without which we couldn’t ever reach the summit of creative talent or achievement.

    So it seems in order to realize our hopes we have to endure and overcome our fears by facing them rather then by disassociating ourselves from them. Of course, sometimes the option to disassociate is born out of necessity when fear becomes crippling however I don’t think that taking this option is desirable. Fear has real value for without fear there would be no hope… as u stated above hope breeds fear and fear breeds hope. Tis better to feel fear and to have hope and to be immersed in life and living then to maintain avoidance out of the wish never to suffer… for suffering has value.

    Thanks for yet another great post,
    🙂

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  2. This very topic came up in our discussion of Heidegger in Existentialism, and can also be found in The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. To hope for something is to fear that it won’t happen; to fear an outcome is to hope that it won’t happen. You can’t have one without the other. Giving up on both of them need not be nihilistic, though. Rather than “detaching” in the negative sense, you can become accepting of the outcomes, whatever they may be. Rather than fearing, acknowledge the worst that could happen and confront it, accept it, own it … and note what can be done to lessen its likelihood. I’ve had my fill of both hope and fear. Neither can be avoided entirely, but I do not seek them out.

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  3. @ Qalmlea, Damn straight! I too think that the best strategy is to aim for acceptance. That said this idea reminds me of the opening line of the Tao Te Ching – “the tao that can be named is not the true Tao.” Like the way, acceptance is not something you can choose even while you can set the controls to the heart of the sun and hope that you can accept whatever will be.
    I like the way u put it, to ‘own it,’ which implies to me that even while not seeking either hope or fear one also refuses to avoid it.

    I’ll have to take a look at The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality (I myself am of the agnostic bent) it sounds goodly.

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  4. @virtualprimate:
    It was a good read. Here’s the Amazon page for it.

    Putting a label to my beliefs/lack thereof is tricky. I’m a non-theist, as in not a theist, but not an atheist, since I’d consider all gods equally real. The least misleading label for myself is probably ‘zen taoist’ (and you correctly noted a Taoist bent to my thinking).

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  5. “The least misleading label for myself is probably ‘zen taoist’”

    I sometimes describe myself as a “Deist Taoist.”

    -M. \”/

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  6. If we didn’t have hope, we’d never make an effort to do something. And the only possible way to avoid fear is to stay trapped in our comfort zone.

    When hope and fear become a problem is the moment when we say to ourselves “I couldn’t cope with the outcome I fear/without the outcome I hope for.”

    Whereas if we can say “I want it to turn out this way, but if it goes differently, I’ll handle it”, we can get on navigating towards our hopes and through our fears without getting into the agonies of paralysing fear or thwarted hope.

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  7. @ Lirone: It is interesting to speculate on what life would be like without any hope. For doesn’t life pretty much demand we get out of bed even if we have no hope? But speculation aside, I agree that — at least for most of us — it’s not an option to give up hope. Which seems to mean it’s not an option to give up fear, for hope and fear seem to be entwined.

    @ Pochp: In so far as by “hopeless hopes” you mean “unrealistic hopes”, I would tend to agree with you. Welcome to the blog!

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  8. I was going to say something along the lines of Lirone, but she said it better than I would.

    Regarding getting out of bed in the morning, without hope you wouldn’t get up. Many clinically depressed people spend a lot of time in bed. Hope (in the sense of expectancy of a desired outcome) is necessary at some level for every action.

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  9. Hope is not the same as expectation. If I act to bring about a desired outcome, I need not hope that my action will succeed. I can simply be aware of the most likely consequences. Do I wash the dishes because I hope they’ll get clean? No, I wash them because they need to be clean to be used again, and washing them will usually get them clean. For a longer discussion than I wanted to put into the comments, go here. I am fundamentally not seeing why hope and fear are necessary to motivate action. Useful, in some instances, but not necessary.

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