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  • Jose Arrieta

On Exercising Hope

I can be cynical and pessimistic. But hope keeps me here. Hope has been the reason why I have done anything in my life. The pursuit of some goal, a potential future, or a higher ideal. I am a sucker for hope. I think we all are.


Hope is a nontrivial feeling. Cats, dogs, and GPTn don't hope. Animals and AIs are filled with intuition and learned behavior, not hope. Hope requires foresight. Hope needs us to imagine futures and select the actions that can get us closer to the one we prefer. Hope is a foundational human activity. And in my opinion, the cornerstone of wisdom and being human.


I am addicted to hope. However wise and humane it might make me, I have never hoped because of these puny goals. I hope because of how it feels. I love how hoping and letting go feels. The certainty, the fear, the joy one gain when exercising hope. Hope let's me engage in a world where tails I win, heads I learn.


I can use my mind and gut to theorize. Check the closest and most viable bridge to my preferred future. It lets me take the first step and feel stars aligning under my feet. True, I often fall. But isn't failure how we learn? And failing in hopeful pursuit hurts less. You can love yourself for trying. You can pamper and accept defeat. You were only doing the best you could with the information you had. You know better now. You will get there.


Hope can build immense things. In The Road Ahead, Bill Gates lays forth the bridges he believed we would cross. In the Manifiesto de Cartagena, SImón Bolivar painted the glorious hell that marked the struggle for independence of the Latin American people. In his Letter from Jamaica, he told us how Latinos are not American. Prescience is a useful part of hope but not the important one. What makes hope important is our wholehearted action to make the future happen. (BTW, not all hope is good either, Adolf wrote his book of hope in prison, and most of it came true)


Though hope can build immense things, I care for the common ones. The common acts that are so full of hope make our lives worth living. The daring to start a PhD after being fired from one's daring to love after a divorce, daring to be in a long-distance relationship because no other future could be as valuable as the one you love. Marrying again. Starting a family. All are more important than whatever straw-theory I can put together and get past some WEIRD editor. My theorizing partly subsidizes my life and my pursuit of hope.


Up to last year, I thought that marriage was the ultimate exercise of hope. In marrying, you take all you know about your partner, bundle it together with the vastness you do not know, and sign that you want to be with this person forever. As time goes on, new things enter the bundle, and loads leave it too. The bundle changes, but your agreement under the law remains. This is the purest definition of hope for me still—an act in which two willing humans choose to be there for one another. A choice made in perpetuity because you do not marry your partner today, you marry every person they will be. However, in the past months, as we become a family I realize how naive I was/am.


Georg Cantor broke mathematics when he found a way of showing that just as T-shirts, infinity comes in a variety of "Aleph" sizes. Just as in Abbott's Flatland where a square marvels at imagining a three-dimensional being, it is impossible for an inhabitant of the natural, integer or rational world to imagine how bigger the real world really is. Or at least until a miracle happens.


Miracles do not need to be strange. There are miracles that happen every day. The same is true for the mundane act of starting a family. As a couple embarks on this act, their lives change. They go from a two-dimensional world where your needs and wants are negotiated to a multidimensional universe where a newborn shows the whimsical minuteness of our prior life. Just as in Abbott's story, we feel a hard punch from the inside as the three-dimensional game enters our consciousness. Just as in Flatland, our actions are limited to the two-dimensional world. It is still you and your partner against the world—an act of hope with a higher Aleph number.


Hope is what makes us human. In my life, I have done crazy things, but when I look back, the risk I took in the pursuit of hope shines in the limelight. As I embark on a new form of hope, my knees tremble, my eyes water, and my belly heats up. Who knows what will come? who knows what we will face? Yet, with wholehearted love for myself and the people embarked on our raft of hope. I am faithful we will be okmay we have fair winds and following seas.


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