In our last article, we looked at the ideas of hope and motivation and pointed out that hope is an ancient word going back a long way into the classical past. Motivation, as a word, was first coined in 1904; yet both are still very active words, with billions of hits on Google. Yet these each have different connotations.
Specifically, we alluded to Freud and the rise of psychology as a science that made the term “motivation” more palatable than “hope” and its strong theological connotations. In the secularized Western world, theological overtones are generally undesirable. They remind people of a higher authority, which secularism perpetually seeks to denigrate.
We started this article by discussing Pandora and how only hope remained in the box after it was opened. Although “hope” is a positive term, in our modern world even that can feel painful. In the 1986 film “Clockwork,” John Cleese’s character says, “It’s not desperation that bothers me; it’s the hope that I can’t bear. And the contemporary English poet Tony Watts writes brilliantly, if darkly, in this three-line poem “Pandora”:
And at the bottom of the box lay Hope—
its muffled and unstoppable cry—
like a cell phone in a body bag.
Watts’ vivid images make hope seem worse than despair.
Faith, Hope and Charity
This is precisely the modern malaise. It seems rooted in our thinking that there is no hope; our cosmic situation, if you will, is hopeless.
However, as GK Chesterton has observed: “Charity means to forgive the unforgivable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means to hope when things are hopeless, or it is not a virtue at all. And faith means believing the unbelievable, or it’s not a virtue at all.
In other words, the absence of tangibility of these concepts (charity, hope, faith) is not a proof that they do not exist or that they do not designate something real. These are the very conditions under which we prove the order, the benevolence, the meaning of all the created world, visible and invisible!
We have hope despite the darkness, chaos, anarchy and evil plaguing our world. And if we don’t have it, then we are a lost people.
How Hope and Motivation Differ
For the purposes of this article, let’s leave aside the elements of faith and charity. Hope, properly understood, is a prerequisite for our sanity and our health. And here we come to an essential distinction between hope and motivation. It can be summarized by the word “time”, understood grammatically, as past, present and future.
Motivation has (but not exclusively) an orientation to the present. It is about my or our motivation in the present. In this sense, it is strongly centered on the person and on me because it is linked to performance. We perform to achieve goals, and if we are motivated, we have abundant energy to do so.
But what happens when motivation evaporates? As the English psychiatrist and author, Dr. Raj Persaud says in his book “Staying Sane”: “A breakdown in motivation not only becomes self-fulfilling, but can also lead to serious psychological problems, if it leads to despair and feeling that things are not going to improve in the future.
As we see in this quote, a breakdown of motivation in the present leads to feelings of hopelessness about the future. Hope is therefore more explicitly turned towards the future. Indeed, hope is how we send messages to the future!
Hope is also less self-centered than motivation and more others-oriented; it is more related to altruism and the well-being of others. This is why, colloquially, we often refer to our hope for the world, for the human race, for our nation, and for a myriad of groups and organizations that may or may not be directly related to us: for example, hope for the poor, for the dispossessed, for the victims of torture or abuse, etc.
How Hope and Motivation Are Similar
In part 1 of this article, we stated that the word the ancient Greek poet Hesiod used for hope is “Elpis”, which can mean “hope” but is often also translated as “expectation”.
In my book “Mapping Motivation”, I lay out the theory that motivation consists of three main ingredients: our personality, our self-concept and, above all, our expectations. What are the expectations? Expectations are our beliefs about future outcomes. To give a simple example: if we believe that applying for a highly desirable job will be successful, then our motivation to apply will be high; if we believe that applying for such a job is going to be unsuccessful, then we are less likely, less motivated to apply, and we enter the realm of self-fulfilling prophecy.
But while expectations are a key ingredient of motivation, they are also essential to hope. As Vivienne Collinson observed in the article “Improving College Teaching: Learning from Exemplary High School Teachers”, “expectations accompanied by action are a beacon of hope”.
The importance of all of this cannot be overstated. We have established that motivation goes hand in hand with performance; one cannot perform at a high level without a high level of motivation.
Hope, too, is also essential. In his book “Working with Emotional Intelligence”, Daniel Goleman states: “Skills studies show that top performers in social services, health care and education counseling express hope for those they seek to help. …In jobs like these, where stress is high and frustrations common…hope is crucial.
But let’s be honest. Stress is ubiquitous in our modern world, and so it’s probably true to say that all the best in any strenuous field have high expectations, high motivation, and high hopes as a result.
One conclusion from this discussion is that motivation and hope are both essential to our well-being. Without them, we’re much more likely to suffer from those “severe psychological problems” Dr. Persaud noted.
The challenge for all of us is to be motivated, to have high hopes, and therefore to find those expectations that nurture those elements within us. But perhaps most powerful of all, when we consider the future direction of hope, is to remember those wonderful words of Saint Clement of Alexandria: “If you do not hope, you will not find this which is beyond your expectations. If our hope were to come true – become a reality – something even more incredible could happen! Now that, in our present world, is it something worth cherishing, surely?
Part 1 discusses the meanings of hope and motivation.