In Greek mythology, Pandora opened her fabled box and let out all evils except for hope, which Greeks considered to be as dangerous as the world's other evils. Soon they discovered that without hope to offset their troubles, humanity was filled with despair. So Pandora let out hope as well. In the myth, hope was more potent than any of the other major evils.
In modern times, we consider hope to be anything but evil. It's what gets many of us through our worst days. Lingering unemployment, foreclosure, dwindling retirement funds, businesses folding — any of these could make a person lose hope.
Fortunately, Pandora recognized the relevance of hope — an element that is critical to our very existence. In the current business climate, hope is what keeps us from throwing in the towel. I'm a realist, but I'm also an optimist. And while hope and optimism are not exactly the same, they are intrinsically linked.
For example, I am optimistic that the economy will eventually improve, and I am hopeful that we can learn lasting lessons from events that led to our business challenges. But I can't just wait and hope. I have to help things happen.
Hope looks at what is possible and builds on that. As former television executive and author SQuire Rushnell (yes, that's the way he spells his name) puts it, "take the 'imp' out of impossible!" Instead, he says, read it as "I'm possible."
In one of my favorite inspirational books, "Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do," my friend Robert Schuller offers up this observation: "Understand the power of this word: impossibility. When uttered aloud, this word is devastating in its effect. Thinking stops. Progress is halted. Doors slam shut. Research comes to a screeching halt. Further experimentation is torpedoed. Projects are abandoned. Dreams are discarded. The brightest and the best of creative brain cells turn off. In this defensive maneuver, the brain shelters itself against the painful sting of insulting disappointments, brutal rejections, and dashed hopes.
"But let someone utter the magic words, it's possible. Buried dreams are resurrected. Sparks of fresh enthusiasm flicker. Tabled motions are brought back to the floor. Dusty files are reopened. Lights go on again in the darkened laboratories. Telephones start ringing. Typewriters make clattering music. Budgets are revised and adopted. 'Help wanted' signs are hung out. Factories are retooled and reopened. New products appear. New markets open. The recession has ended. A great new era of adventure, experimentation, expansion and prosperity is born."
This advice, penned more than 25 years ago, is just as pertinent today. In fact, when you consider the advances of the past quarter century, look at how we have changed the face of businesses: did anyone have a website in 1985? What was your cell phone number? Were you video-conferencing with your South American office with the touch of a button?
What will the next 25 years hold? I suspect that the coming generations will use their technologies in ways we are just beginning to imagine are possible. I am certain that products will be developed that will make life easier, safer and better. I have every hope that we have the brainpower and the will to do just that.
But we cannot accomplish much at all if we don't have hope. Hope is believing that every cloud has a silver lining, and when that cloud rains, it makes things grow. And then the sun comes out again.
British anthropologist Jane Goodall has spent more than 50 years conducting landmark research on wild chimpanzees and great apes and observing the tremendous power of nature to restore itself. She shares these thoughts: "I carry a few symbols with me. . . to remind me of the hope that there is in the world: the human brain, with the technology that we are now working to try and live in greater harmony with the environment; the resilience of nature — give nature a chance and it's amazing how places that we've destroyed can bloom again; the tremendous energy, commitment, excitement and dedication of young people once they know what the problems are and we empower them to act to do something about it. And finally, the indomitable human spirit, those people who tackle impossible tasks and won't give in... that are shining inspiration to those around them."
Mackay's Moral: Hope for the best and then find a way to make it happen.