As a psychologist, in any given day I will meet with individuals, couples, children, and families whose lives have been scarred by the tragic hand of fate - people who have been abused, neglected, grief-stricken, lonely, or traumatized by misfortune. Yet despite the fact that the lives of many people are, by any objective standards, overwhelming I never fail to be astonished by their resilience, perseverance, and optimism. “The audacity of hope”, as articulated by former President Obama, strikes the right chord in the lives of so many people during such difficult times.
“The audacity of hope” is a wonderful phrase. It highlights that hope in life requires courage. Audacity, in this phrase, illustrates that hope must be daring and bold. It implies that hope is not a weak optimism but a gutsy determination. It is as much an act of defiance as it is an act of faith.
“The audacity of hope” recasts American optimism in a different light. Formerly, most Europeans have been put off by superficial American optimism through the symbols of “Have a nice day”, tinseltown, Disneyland, “mission accomplished”, and Hollywood mythology. We Irish prefer a more honest mythology. Our songs are filled with grief as much as hope. Our literary heritage is filled with stories about life that weave darkness and despair into narratives of hope and possibility from Beckett to Joyce and from Yeats to Kavanagh. We love Shane McGowan’s “Fairytale of New York” because it describes the bloodied character of life in all its tragic beauty. Luke Kelly sang as if he knew the texture of life’s hardship as much as its tender beauty.
It is the responsibility of all leaders to be able to strike this chord, to find the balance between hope and despair, and courage and fear. The audacity of hope is then the willingness to salute and acknowledge the hidden tragedies of life while still remaining hopeful. As Emerson put it: “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards”.
We all know what physical courage is (as seen on the field of Thomand Park every January). Mental courage in life is the willingness to look facts in the face, the ability to grasp the tragic and often meaninglessness of things in life. Without this courage the soundings of the poet, politician, or pope is restricted to cant and religious humbug! Spiritual courage is the willingness to suffer and change. The striving for the divine in life is courage.
In life all of us are “made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.
As people, we each seek in life the will, the audacity, and the boldness to believe in ourselves when all objective signs suggest that we may as well give in. We can so easily batter ourselves with our mistakes, failings, and imperfections and find countless reasons to fold up our tents and go home to a depressive conclusion about ourselves. But NO! We must not yield. The very essence if life is to remain audacious, is it not? To give ‘the finger’ to life’s indifference.
Audacity is that which also endows us with the power to accept gratefully all that happens. To be able to bear all the brutal truths about life and yet, despite ones circumstance to remain calm and in touch with the pulse of life.
This is the achievement of the heroine. Courage, the audacity of hope, is the greatest of human virtues. It is the virtue of the homemaker, housewife, working mother, single-parent, partner, lover, and single woman who, despite adversity, “picks herself up, brushes herself down, and starts all over again!” Without it the true psychological and spiritual life is not possible.
When we hear of some calamity that affects our parents, our families, or ourselves our mind instantly endeavours to find some cheap compensation, something to console us for our inevitable grief, some profit in the loss. Cheap hope is without courage. Audacious hope, however, starts from an acceptance of our condition, an empathy and compassion for how hard life can be and a gratitude for the opportunity to live and to believe in…
“The world which ere I was born,
The world which lasts when I am dead,
Which never was the friend of one,
Nor promised love it could not give,
But lit for all its generous sun,
And lived itself and made us live”.
Dr. Colm O'Connor is a Cork Psychologist. He has written hundreds of articles on family psychology - some posted here.