Skip to content


by on March 21, 2014


by Marco M. Pardi

“Who lives by hope dies fasting” Italian proverb, quoted by James Howell (1593-1666) Paroimiographia. 1659.

For various reasons I have successfully avoided most birthday parties in my honor. I also have never gone to one of my school graduations. Perhaps my peers think I don’t age; more likely they think I didn’t graduate. Good on ’em.

I have attended birthday parties, usually complete with a cake made of substances that reduce the likelihood of the next birthday party. And, I have attended the graduations of others, a process wherein a person becomes an alumnus. Modern etymological studies of “alumnus” usually trace it to the Latin infinitive, Alere – to nourish. Thus, an alumnus is interpreted as a “foster child” or a “nourished one”. Older studies trace it to an obscure term for a “foundling” who, having been raised, is turned loose. Hence, “commencement”, the beginning of a new life.

Presumably, the gestating alumnus has developed certain hopes, perhaps that the field into which one has invested several years and untold sums will be there (with openings) upon graduation. Perhaps.

A ritual act, common to birthday parties, that I always found discomforting was the making of a wish and blowing out the candles. I dislike being asked to make a wish almost as much as I dislike being asked what is my favorite (fill in the blank). I don’t do wishes, and I don’t have favorites.

And, what would one hope for? To win the lottery? Oh, of course, must buy a ticket for Big Balls, or whatever they call the latest sucker tax. Some lotteries even do us the favor of calculating the odds. So, would two tickets half the odds? My odds are always 50%; either I will, or I won’t win.

I have known people who, claiming to have examined the odds, refused to buy any insurance of any kind beyond State mandated driving insurance. They usually claim the money they save in premiums will more than pay if they should ever need it. Probably true except when it comes to catastrophic illness. I have also known people who refuse elective insurance because they feel that preparing for adverse events sets them in motion. Think of a possibility and you draw it to you. Another angle comes from those who eschew hopeful thinking because it potentiates an uncomfortable state of not having. Obviously, when we hope for something we concentrate on that which we don’t have, not that which we do. We potentiate our state of want.

Although not yet rivaling insurance companies in most cases (churches excepted), there are various groups and individuals drawing big premiums from the sale of hope. So what exactly is this phenomenon that, as far as we know, is most frequently found in one aberrant form of Primate called Man?

Many aphorisms are attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. “When you want what you have, you have what you want”, “desire is the root of all suffering.” Buddhism is often and rightly viewed as the most elegant form of self psycho-therapy. Of course, there are those who say satisfaction leads to stagnation; without a sense of want we would never have advances. My childhood looms up with “No one in the family has ever done that before”, and my rejoinder “If everyone thought that way we wouldn’t have the wheel.”

Hope may “spring eternal” but its foundation can be identified: Cognitive Displacement, among other things the ability to conceive of non-existent states. While normally adaptive in its contributions such as resourceful memory and preventive foresight, it can be maladaptive in numerous ways.

Those of us who have applied our learning in Thanatology, actually working with individuals and families as they confront dying and death, have seen the darker harvests of hope. From spontaneous abortion (commonly called “miscarriage”), to the sudden or prolonged death of a child, to the death of a loved one, and to one’s own inevitable decline and death hope has been an anchor, and a victim.

People speak of realistic hope and of false hope as if there were some objective way to calculate the odds and differentiate the two. Yet, hope is a subjective state. It arises from a perceived difference between what one has and what one wants. It includes the often amorphous sense that somehow the desired state will come into being. Others, myself included, can only ask questions regarding the basis and the focus of the hope, and determine for ourselves whether we would “put our money down”, whether we would hold such a hope.

In cases of spontaneous abortion and other sudden deaths hope is, in fact, in the past. Yet, it often hangs over the present, threatening to obscure everything else from view. Gradually, with help, the What Might Be, developed while the fetus or child lived, begins to shift toward the What Might Have Been as the realization of death takes hold. And, the What Might Have Been must be put to rest with the deceased. Nowhere is this process as painful, or as necessary as in the unintentional death of a fetus, or of the death of a child. Addressing this with a parent or parents requires the clarification of three frank realities: The fetus or the child is dead; the hopes held for that fetus or that child are now null and void and must not simply be carried forward to a possible next child; and, the parent(s) must learn to differentiate what they lost from what they imagine they have lost.

In its purest and most undeveloped form, hope is a fantasy. However, hope may be developed into a Goal, with measurable Objectives to assess progress toward that Goal. When someone expresses a hope to me I can say nothing but “Oh.” On the odd chance that I am interested, I may then ask the person to delineate the following:

A. Goal statement
1. Measurable objectives, with timeframe
B. Strategy for Goal Achievement
1. Tactics for Objectives Achievement
a. Assessment of tactic appropriate resources
C. Assessment of ROI, Return on Investment

Thus, it should be clear that, without the above framework, a statement of hope is merely a statement of fantasy. Fantasies may be entertaining, but they can also be maladaptive; when allowed to stand simply on their own they distract us from the work required to bring them into reality, or to finally judge them unreachable.

I hope I win Big Balls.

A. Win Big Balls
1. Check wallet for disposable money
2. Drive to nearest Stop ‘N’ Rob
3. Inquire into Return policy for defective ticket, i.e. doesn’t
4. Buy ticket (2 to double the chances)
5. Dream what I would do with the money
6. Check drawing results
7. Deconstruct dream
8. Assess what I can now do with less money
9. Assess what I could have been doing had I not been

I hope I have made myself clear. Hint: Answer Yes unless you want me to post this again.

From → Uncategorized

  1. Marco, I do understand what you are saying, yet at the same time for me hope is allowance of heart (not sure this is the right word in English !!:-)), expanding your heart to infinity, not denying or refusing the possibilities of good things embracing us . To me more than a statement of fantasy is a state of heart.
    Nevertheless !!! I am going to say YES ! God forbid you`re going to post this again !! 😉 lol!!


  2. Hope and fear rob us of the present- Pema Chödrön. I do believe that hope is a false sense of security. Hope is irrational and at the end of the day, you cannot cash in your daily dose.


    • Thanks, Candice. Hope is dreaming in a waking state. Entertaining at times, but as you say, it can distract us from what we need to do. Marco


  3. Oh, and Yes- and I want to believe you do not age (so the world would have you around indefinitely) and Graduation is a display of achievement for the parents, it means nothing.


    • Thanks. I’ll tell my doctor not to worry so much. The only graduation I plan to attend will be when I go behind Door Number 4.


  4. Thanks, FOAL. Never say never, but the same logic means never say certainly.


    • Rose Palmer permalink

      Always and never are bound to be false statements, because only death is absolute.


  5. It is wonderful you have such clear vision for those in times of their deepest darkness. “Three frank realities” is very good. Thank you.


  6. Thank you, Mary. As you well know, these conversations can be emotionally wrenching. But they must occur. I sometimes wonder how you did it for so long. Marco


  7. Gary Reid permalink

    On Fri, Mar 21, 2014 at 3:58 PM, mpardidotcom


  8. Tristan Bohling permalink

    Yes, you have!

    Reading on the ritual acts of birthdays and graduation ceremonies brought me back to my adolescents when I was raised in a Christian household and attended public school. My family would pray before every meal to “bless” the food and at school we would recite the Pledge of Alligence every day. It wasn’t until my teens that I started realizing that these rituals had no real impact if they were not conducted: my meals did not taste any worse if I skipped prayer and the supposed “freedom-hating terrorists” of that day did not have the advantage if I chose to sit during the Pleadge.

    This was a great read, Prof. Pardi. Thank you for sharing!


  9. Thanks, Tristan. After I got Naturalized into the U.S. I refused to do the pledge of allegiance in school. I said, “The judge didn’t tell me it had to be renewed every 24 hours.”


  10. Rose Palmer permalink

    Greek mythology teaches us that hope was the last thing trapped in Pandora’s box (jar, technically) once all the evils of humanity were released, and since all things fall to the lowest common denominator…. Hope (a tiny being named Elpis) was meant to give us the illusion that things could be made better, but I make it a policy never to challenge worse.

    Hope without a plan is just a dream, and dreaming without putting that plan into action makes it a fantasy. That being said; I couldn’t agree more with Foal. Hoping allows our heart the possibility of putting that dream into action. Without those dreams, very little would ever change.


  11. Thanks, Rose. Indeed, hope without a plan is just fantasy. Thanks for your Pandora reminder. I tend to keep women bearing gifts out of mind, but should look more deeply once in a while.


  12. Rose Palmer permalink

    “Be careful what you wish for” -Chinese proverb

    Since this posting, I have been thinking about the ultimate exercise in hope; the bucket list. For those who don’t know, that is a list of the things one wishes to accomplish before dying. Generally made up of lifelong dreams and near-impossible fantasies, it can also be a jumping-off spot to what may still be possible if a plan of action is followed to its end.

    Nearly two years ago now, my husband had open heart surgery. Before he went under the knife, we had a discussion about what I was to do if he didn’t make it, and what he wanted us to do together if he did. When he was sufficiently recovered, we, along with our five year old granddaughter, set out to follow his plan. It was three weeks of fun and adventure, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I know there are still a few things on his bucket list, but then he isn’t dead yet.

    When I think about my own list, I realize that, while my life felt quite ordinary along the way, I have experienced many things which might be on the lists of others. There have been opportunities missed which are beyond recovery, but certainly others which are still available; if hopes become plans, there is a chance they will become realities. I’m pretty good at the set-up, not always so good at the follow-through.

    My advice (not that you asked) is not to allow things to sit on that list too long; you never know which sunrise will be your last. I plan to live the rest of my life to the fullest; I hope you do, too. Rose


    • Love reading your posts, Rose ! I share your feelings. and by the way, Marco is definitely right ! A BLOG is almost imperative 😉 !


  13. Thanks, Rose. Would love to see your blog soon. Indeed, you have lived, and are living a fascinating life.
    When I was much younger Soviet 5 Year Plans were commonly reported and dsicussed. Somewhat attracted to the concept, I devised some for myself. Needless to say, they fell apart in 5 months, 5 weeks, and even 5 days. Time became at once fluid and static, basically irrelevant. Hard to plan in that kind of cosmos.

    We are great fans of yours, and we HOPE you will open a blog. Marco


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: