28. On the top of a fence

“A lot of people will have heard the Greek myth about Pandora’s box, and how all the evils of the world were locked away in it until Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her and she opened the lid to have a peak inside. I didn’t really know much of the details until I looked the story up, but when I did there was an extra bit of information that I hadn’t realised was in the story. I suppose I only remembered the sanitised story-time version of the Pandora myth.

“So the part we probably all know is that after she lifted the lid all the bad and rotten things that humankind was meant to be spared from flew out and into the world and started doing their evil best — you know, disease, hunger, hatred, cruelty, all the things people would have been better without. It seems that Pandora then quickly slammed the lid shut, trying to stop the evils escaping, although it was mostly too late. But there was one thing that couldn’t get out before the lid closed again, and that was hope — I hadn’t heard about something staying in the box before then, although it must have got out somehow if it’s around now. I suppose the point about this detail being in the story is that no matter how bad the world gets, now that all the evils of the world have been let loose, people will at least still have hope.

“But for me, the big question was why hope would have been locked away with the world’s evil elements in the first place. That was a surprise — I think a lot of us would think that hope is a positive thing, not something to be thrown in with all the crummy evil things. It seemed to be a funny twist in logic, that hope was assigned by those ancient mythology makers as being something that humans would be better off without. But is it possible they maybe had a point? Is there something about hope, or maybe that ‘over the rainbow’ type of wishing, that’s not helpful?”

So said Benny to himself. It occurred to him, expressed in his own words, that having a hope that something or other will change or happen or develop implies that the way things are now isn’t how the person who has that hope wants them to be. Clinging to a hope that ‘one day’ things will be better, in that ‘over the rainbow’ way, as he put it, that wishes for a better outcome just underlines that the status quo is no good. What he could have asked was why fixate on future possibles when the present do-ables are still needing attention?

So while the saying goes ‘there’s always room for improvement’, the point is that wishing things were different comes from a conviction that things as they stand are not as good as they could be, and that there is ‘disappointment’ in the present. Just in a physical sense, for example, to give some relative perspective, as long as there’s a motivation to improve something — to change your body shape, have more hair, get a smaller nose, have darker or fairer skin or whatever — the yearning for these changes is motivated by the same viewpoint that made any condition a problem in the first place.

But then again, Benny shouldn’t take this too negatively. It’s not that one should have a conviction that there’s anything really wrong with having hope. Benny himself had been constantly trying to get towards some form of clarity — and he could describe that effort as a hope to have some result from his efforts. It’s not about abandoning that, but more about challenging motivations. The urge to make a change a lot of the time comes from a place that not only assumes there’s something not quite right to begin with, but that clings to an empty conviction that you are ‘owed’ being better than that. If you get a misguided motivation into the picture, then there’s that longing for something better, for something, usually in the future, that will be an improvement on where we’re at now.

So there are these aspects to the problem; assuming that what we’ve got is somehow lacking, plus being convinced that ‘of course’ you’ll come out on top. But another aspect is that where there is a holding on to a hope for improvement of some kind, there tends to also be a fear that this won’t happen. So this can be like walking along the top of a fence, hoping to stay on top but having the fear that you’re going to fall off at any step. But anyway, this crossing his fingers to be better, to be ‘special’ (that is, more special than the next person) is a trap that I’d rather Benny did not fall into. I guess my job of keeping a watch out isn’t done yet.

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