Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hope: Reality's Mistress


Just because I want something to be a certain way doesn’t make it so. This, apparently, is a lesson I fail to learn - repeatedly. When a person wants to believe in something, and she gets told things she wants to hear, she would tend to believe that something is true – or it’s gonna happen. However, I have come to this conclusion: Hope is to reality as alcohol is to a body. Hope is delightfully intoxicating - and I'm an addict.

I should listen to my gut so much more than I do. How many times has your gut instinct told you to do/not to do something and you did the opposite? What usually happens when you don’t listen to your gut? Chances are, Hope seduced you but your instincts were right. The problem is, sometimes Hope wins.

Hope is a game of chance. It’s kind of like behavioral modification. To use an overly simplistic example, let’s say you want a child to make her bed every day. Using positive reinforcement, you decide to reward the child using a variable reward method – defined and known only by you (ie: you reward the child at various, inconsistent times, randomly), as opposed to a consistent reward method (ie: every time she makes her bed she gets a reward). Which method do you think is more effective in achieving the goal (her making the bed every day)? People might tend to think that the consistent reward method is more effective because the child can count on it, but studies have shown the opposite. Using a variable reward method creates the unknown, but known – in essence, she knows she will get rewarded just not when. When she is rewarded, it’s much more appreciated and makes a higher impact than with the consistent reward method. Consistency becomes mundane and easy to take advantage of, or for granted. A variable reward method creates hope. Gamblers are all too familiar with it.

I don’t mean to get too far off track. I’m just trying to rationalize behavior – specifically mine. So, picking up where my last blog left off, Mike left me with hope: Hope that he would sell the house and do what was necessary to reunite with his wife. My gut told me not to believe it – that he was telling me what I wanted to hear so I would quit complaining, thereby buying him more time to not change. But hope is so much sexier than reality.

Now, please don’t think that I am beating up on Mike – I’m not. I’m just depicting behavior – his and mine – that has led up to this moment. Mike is a good man. He is harmless and would never purposely hurt me, or anyone I know. He has a good heart and means well. However, he’s an extremely passive personality and only becomes truly active when forced. He’s perfectly content with the way things are in his life. I am an active personality. I need and seek change in my life as my goals, wants and desires evolve. That’s not to say that Mike doesn’t have goals – he does – he’s the most educated person I’ve ever known. He’s currently working on his dissertation for his second PhD – plus he has a bachelor’s degree, law degree, and master’s degree from Georgia Tech. Obviously it takes action to achieve all of that (and probably some level of insanity). The difference is this: it’s singular – it’s for self-edification and doesn’t require much interaction with others.

Sometimes I think Mike is lucky because he doesn’t really have much need for hope. He is one of those people who can live in the moment – think about the future but actually live and appreciate the moment at hand. He’s self-actualized, calm, cool and collective. He’s rational (sometimes to a fault), mostly reasonable, but emotionally arrested. I don’t know if it’s better to be still, like Mike, or active, like me. My mind is always moving, thinking about things that need to be done, things I’d like to do, places I’d like be, people I need to talk to, etc… I try to live in the moment but I’m not nearly as successful as Mike. Because of this, I think I have a need for hope – which puts me at a disadvantage sometimes.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think hope is great at times. It can provide strength and power to get one out of a horrible situation. One of my favorite philosophers, Soren Kierkegaard, claimed: “Hope is passion for what is possible.” Hope has definitely helped me through difficult times in my life, but it has also fallen short. I guess the best rule of thumb is still “moderation in all things.” Let me see how many idioms I can use to try and teach myself a lesson in distinguishing the difference between hope and reality:
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket (I should always make sure I even have the damn eggs)
  • Everything that glitters is not gold
  • Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing (all things are not as they seem, regardless of what I want)
  • If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck
Okay, that’s enough. I’m sure you get the point, even if I don’t want to.

Well, I didn’t exactly impart the message I had intended, but it’s a start. More to come……..stay tuned.

If you want to learn more about conditioning via behavioral modification techniques, click here.


Leslie Wardell said...

I am trying to put "hope" back into my life. I feel like I have surrendered to an existence I cannot abide any longer and the only thing I can do is make the necessary changes in myself, and stop being reactionary.
As sad as it is, sometimes Love is not enough.

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