“Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” So said Red Redding to Andy Dufresne in that masterpiece, “The Shawshank Redemption.” Morgan Freeman (as Red) and Tim Robbins (as Andy) have never been better.
For the uninitiated, “Shawshank” is about prison life. It is a story about guilt, innocence, friendship, love, struggle and injustice. It is a story about hope, and how hope can keep a man alive, even though Red had given up on hope long ago. Hope is a cruel joke, in his estimation, that convinced gullible people to long for something that was impossible to attain.
Old Red’s view is largely consistence with the ancient philosophers who used hope as a synonym for dashed expectations. It was nothing but starry-eyed, false anticipation. Modern philosophy hasn’t changed this view, as Red could have easily been channeling Nietzsche who thought of hope as the malevolent instrument that simply prolonged human suffering.
Still, Andy Defresne told Red that hope was “the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” In fact, that is hope’s exact definition. It is what never dies. More than human longing, more than personal aspiration, more than some head-in-the-cloud dream, it is the stuff of endurance.
Look at those who have survived the worst atrocities; the survivors always have some intangible power to bend, but not break, under the pressure. These individuals endured, persevered, and suffered the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” while taking “arms against their sea of troubles.” But when the battle had ended, they were found intact; hurt, but alive; battered, but not defeated. They had resiliency, a synonym for hope.
Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright who became the first president of the Czech people after the fall of the Soviet Union, defined hope as well as Andy Dufresne. He said, “Hope is not optimism. It is the certainty that life has meaning, regardless of how it turns out…I am not an optimist, because I’m not sure everything will end well. I just carry hope in my heart.”
Yes, “hope is a dangerous thing,” but not because it can make people crazy. It is dangerous to the status quo; it gives people the tenacity to “keep on keeping on.” It gives people the power to change their world. And right now, in this world, that would be “the best of things.”
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.