What is the connection between modern motivation and ancient hope? Part 1 – 71Bait

Is there a connection between motivation and hope? And do we need to know about it?

Let us immediately dismiss ideas like that of a Russian proverb: “In the realm of hope there is no winter.” We need not speak of hope as mere wishful thinking. Let’s talk about something much more powerful and substantial. The Greek myth of Pandora got it right: when Pandora disobeyed and opened the box (or jar) to let out all the evils of the world, only — after she closed the box — remained hope.

The ancient Greek poet Hesiod’s word for “hope” is “elpis”, which can mean hope but is also often translated as “expectation”. We will come back to this point.


“Pandora”, 1873, by Alexandre Cabanel. Oil on canvas. Walter’s Art Museum, Baltimore. (public domain)

According to this myth, hope is something essential to human life, for without it we would lose ourselves in despair and depression; We would give up life. This scenario is not just imaginative. World expert on optimism, American psychologist Martin Seligman, Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, said in his book Authentic Happiness:

“Optimism and hope lead to better resilience to depression when dire events strike, better performance at work, especially in challenging jobs, and better physical health.”

Václav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, said: “Hope is not the belief that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something will make sense no matter how it turns out.” In other words, meaning is central to having hope because if there’s no point, then what are we hoping for?

Hope is also positive, as the left-wing political philosopher Ernst Bloch stated in his “Principle of Hope” (1959/1986): “Hope is more likely to fall in love with success than with failure.”

And when we look at fiction (considering Professor Charles Singleton’s astute observation that the greatest fiction of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” is that it isn’t fiction), we recall that the Gates of Hell has a shield over it that contains the following message: “Abandon hope, all who enter here.” Hell is a place where there is no hope.

When we read the whole of “Inferno” and get to know all the characters that Dante meets there, we see that the damned have no meaning in their lives and no motivation either. Instead, each person is caught up in self-destructive and repetitive behaviors. These behaviors reflect how they lived, only now with no possibility of change. Their existence is extremely robotic: they have completely lost all possible human joy.

St. Paul describes the three greatest virtues as faith, hope and love. Love is the greatest of these, but we notice that in describing the attributes of love he says: Love “endures all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). In other words, hope is an integral aspect or facet of love itself.

Motivation is not mentioned by St. Paul, nor is the word used anywhere else in the Bible, but I think it’s pretty clear that if there’s hope, there’s motivation.


Epoch Times photo
“Love, Faith and Hope”, 1819, by Heinrich Maria von Hess. oil on the fairing. Hermitage, St Petersburg. (public domain)

But why isn’t the word motivation used in the Bible? Hope is an old Anglo-Saxon word (Old English: “hopian”, indicating the basic idea “a leap or leap with expectation”). As a term, it goes even further back to the Greek language and the Bible.

“Motivation” as a word is a relatively recent phenomenon, first appearing in 1904 in the early 20th century. This is amazing, given its ubiquity today, when you think about it: a Google search for the word returns about 1,380,000,000 results, that’s over a billion! But lest we think that hope is outdated, this word produces over 2 billion hits on Google. So both words are very active in our language; The recent invention of the word “motivation” suggests a new focus of meaning that the word “hope” itself does not denote.

What that designation might be is possibly indicated by the time frame in which it occurs: What was significant that happened around the time of 1904 that was different and was about to change people’s minds forever?

Well, perhaps the most obvious thing is that Sigmund Freud had started publishing his works about 13 years earlier and his book The Interpretation of Dreams came out in 1899. Lo and behold, educators today are realizing that dreams and hope are closely related. In an article titled “Hope as a Factor in Teachers’ Thinking and Classroom Practice,” authors Collinson, Killleavy, and Stephenson assert, “Hope not only makes life meaningful, it makes us dream.”

While these authors use the word “dream” in a lay sense (as opposed to Freud’s technical usage), we could conclude that both meanings are related. Consider Freud’s view in his Interpretation of Dreams: “The dream is the liberation of the mind from the pressures of external nature, a detachment of the soul from the bondage of matter.” Dreaming, even daydreaming, is certainly just that: a liberation from pressure the outside world, which is why we are happy to indulge ourselves.

Epoch Times photo
“Mercy’s Dream”, 1858, by Daniel Huntington. Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. (public domain)

But as the authors also note, citing educational expert Freema Elbaz (1992): hope “seems to be a disposition that lies outside the technological rationality of modern culture”; and they further add: “Hope also seems to lie outside the disillusionment of the postmodern era.”

In short, we have a situation in the 20th century where ‘hope’ is avoided as a serious subject: it is far too positive, too theologically connoted and therefore not scientific, or more precisely perhaps not. “Motivation”, on the other hand, can easily fill the gap since it has not taken on all the historical connotations of “hope”.

Although motivation is inherently positive, it can also manifest itself negatively, as with the word demotivation. There is no word like “de-hope”, only hopelessness, implying the absence of hope; we do not have it. We register a zero value for this, i.e. not a negative number (or “positive” aversion) as with demotivation.

The importance of this point, of course, is that since there is no negative number for hope, of course we should all have it; it has a “value” and its absence therefore means a deficit in us. But a deficit in us would be judgmental by modern thinking, and we can’t have that.

Conversely, if we have a negative number for the word “motivation,” then being “motivation-negative” about a cause, issue, or value may just be the way things are. No judgment needs to be implied (although we understand that in general it is better to be motivated than not to be).

After these preliminary considerations, what is the further difference between motivation and hope and how are they otherwise related? Part 2 of this article will explore this further.

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