Friday, September 09, 2011

Friday Thoughts on Hope and Audacity

Yesterday I heard a wonderful interview with Hisham Matar on NPR.  Mr. Matar has a new book about a fictional account of a father's disappearance, loosely based on his own experience when his father was kidnapped by the Egyptian secret service.

This story was definitely a "driveway moment" for me, although technically I was on my way to work.  (It's hard to have a "driveway moment" with Morning Edition.  I'm just sayin' . . . ) But there were two specific things that really caught my attention.

First, Matar states "I am part of a generation that isn't as audacious as the generation before.  And actually I think that lack of audacity is not such a bad thing.  I think my generation's inability to speak in absolute terms when it comes to politics is a very positive thing; it's made us more nuanced, made us more complex."  Mr. Matar, who is also 40,  has put into words what I've felt about my generation for a while.  For our generation things are not black and white, right or wrong, good or bad.  There are infinite shades of grey.  When I think about how so called Gen-X looks at life, politics, ideals, I believe this is a very apt description.  And perhaps that is what feeds my frustration with the previous generation (Baby Boomers).  Perhaps it is because, as Mr. Matar says, the previous generation has such big dreams and were willing to shout them from the rooftops, while our generation is less likely to speak out in big ways.  I think in some ways that gives us more patience for the process as well as a general understanding that it is a process.

The other thing Mr. Matar spoke at length about was hope.  I have always been wary of hope and not sure why.  But Mr. Matar stated that hope is not necessarily a positive feeling, in fact, it is a really terrible thing.  He says the state of living in hope is a very dispossessing thing and certainty is far more desirable than hope.  It sounds morose, perhaps.  But if we always live in hope do we miss what is in front of us?  Are we thinking about what could be?  Mr. Matar was speaking of hope in terms of not knowing the fate of his father -- he could still be alive, but he has no way of knowing.  That kind of uncertainly must be incredibly painful.  But do we all live in hope on some level?  And is that the best way?

Perhaps this is what President Obama meant when he talked about the audacity of hope. His speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention described what he meant:

In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics 
of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to  hope. John Edwards 
calls on us to hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism here -- the almost willful 
ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't talk about it, or 
the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I'm talking about 
something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing 
freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a 
young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker's 
son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes 
that America has a place for him, too. The audacity of hope!

What place does the "audacity of hope" play in our lives?  What is the good of that hope if we aren't willing to do the hard work that it takes to get to where we want to be as a nation.  Hope certainly has it's place, but if that is all we have then it won't take us far.

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