Friday, February 08, 2013

Introduction to the Two Cities

I've been so amazed by messages I've received in response to Tuesday's post that I thought I might continue the theme. In fact, I'm going to make an effort to couple blogging with my own spiritual reading of William Lynch's Images of Hope: Imagination as the Healer of the Hopeless. If my writings encourage readers to pick up a copy of this profound text, then I've done my job in sharing with others a true gem of literature.

Lynch begins by noting something of an irony: "for many people hope really means despair....when we say that a man has hope, we mean that he is in serious trouble...when we say that someone has hope, we usually imply that he has nothing else, and that he is close to despair."

Hope, as we tend to use the word, reflects a sort of bankruptcy. Having exhausted one's talents or abilities or social capital one runs on the last "fumes" of hope. Hope becomes a last-ditch psychological effort, a flight of fancy, a way of trying to evade or dodge reality.

When we hear the word "hope" how do we respond? When a college student says, "I hope to work in the film industry" how quickly do we rush to say, "NO! There's no hope of that. You need to be realistic - you need to get yourself a real job, a proper major." When we see a friend who has been struggling, who is something of a bungle in life, how often do we say, "That one's hopeless."

In response to this, Lynch mentions three central ideas related to hope he wishes to use to dispel the former understanding:

  1. The life of hope is equated with the life of imagination, a realistic imagination. When a scientist confronts a new problem, it is hope that sustains her efforts in probing various solutions. When a dancer confronts a new routine, or a musician a new and demanding piece of music, it is hope that keeps them engaged with the task at hand. When parents are ripped from their sleep by a puking child or a colicky baby, it is hope for the child's eventual departure for college that keeps them sane. Hope, in other words, drives us deeper into the real. 
  2. Imagination imagines with others. When a young man comes to my office and risks telling me his hopes for the future, I can either shoot them down or I can imagine with him what the future might hold. A young couple sitting down and sketching out a plan for their future, parents sacrificing for their children, friends planning a new venture: hope is not solitary but social, drawing us into conversation and finding strength in others. 
  3. Hope is the action of desire; where there is no wishing, there is no hope. Each of us has desires, yet how often do we risk naming our desires, expressing our wishes? It's easy to chastise ourselves for 'wishing' because it seems childish. Yet how many corporations were built, or great novels written, or moving symphonies composed, or adventures undertaken simply by being conventional, by not daring the wish? 
At the conclusion of the introduction, Lynch offers two alternatives: our lives can be given to the construction of the City of Man or the Inhuman City. Let me explain.
  • City of Man - a city where all men have citizenship. It will take a great exercise of the social imagination to envision a city where persons of all stripes - men and women, young and old, Jew and Greek and Gentile, the mentally well and the mentally ill - find welcome. 
  • Inhuman City - a city where we billed high and absolute walls meant to keep some people in and very many others out. This is the ideal city of our own making, made in our own image and likeness, where "we" is gathered around "me" and everyone who dissents is cast out. Lynch writes that, in this city, "citizens spend their time reassuring each other and hating everyone else." 
One is the city of Hope, the other the city of the Hopeless. It is the "absolutizing instinct" that marks the second city, an instinct that erects barriers and walls where there should be gates and entrances. The "absolutizing instinct" bars the door where there should otherwise be a welcome mat. 

Each of us should wonder: where do I dwell? Where do I help others to dwell? Is my stance in life one of hope or is it infected with a deep hopelessness and fear? Are we raising our children in an environment of hope or hopelessness? 

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