Wednesday, January 07, 2015
ON HOPING FOR THE BEST AND PREPARING FOR THE WORST
Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. That is what the pragmatists say. Quite frankly, I find that statement a little confusing. At a glance the statement appears to be wise, a good balance of hope and caution. Do we hope that our houses will not catch fire, even as we purchase fire extinguishers and teach our children which exits to use and where to meet if the house should burst into flame? Do we not buy health insurance when we hope to be well? Do we not lock our doors even though we hope not to be robbed? But, on second glance, the idea of hoping for the best while preparing for the worst gives me trouble. Maybe it’s because I have counselled so many people with depression so crippling that it will not allow them to hope for the best. Everything they do seems to be directed toward preparing for the worst. The preparation becomes so compelling a preoccupation that good things within their reach can elude their grasp, remaining as unnoticed as bed bugs in the light of day. The problem, I think, is that hope in the context of hoping for the best is a passive thing, while preparing is an active occupation. We can get so busy preparing that any benefits of hope become invisible to us. Hope isn’t much use until we put a little preparation into it. One of my favourite things about hope is that, when treated to attention and respect, it tends to direct our activities. To get the best out of hope, we have to treat it the way we treat a treasured infant. We can’t simply mention it and expect it to take care of itself. We have to sit with it, inquire about it, experiment with it, nurture it, work towards its goals. We have to invest in it. Even as we invest some effort into preparing for the worst. When it comes to sayings, I think I prefer: Hope for the best and prepare for it. Also prepare for the worst, and hope the time you spent preparing for it will turn out to have been wasted.