Are You Optimistic or Hopeful? Which One Is Better?

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If you follow me on my personal Facebook page (which doesn’t have much of anything personal about me, confusingly enough, since I started it in order to post political articles back during the election), you’ll know that I’m a YUGE fan of a conservative columnist over at National Review named Jonah Goldberg. (Music fans may know that one of Bach’s most famous compositions is a set of pieces called the “Goldberg Variations.” An early ancestor of the estimable Jonah? Maybe so.)

Anyway, this Goldberg has, like everyone else in the known universe and beyond who has anything to do with any kind of media, started a podcast, called The Remnant. The second episode, once you get past some rather sophomoric attempts at humor, has an interview with Yuval Levin, a name I’m sort of familiar with because Levin is a contributor to NR, whose website I check many imes a day. (If you’re a friend of mine through my aforementioned personal FB page you’ll knowthat I also post articles from NR and other news outlets several times a day. I do have a life, I promise!) I had no idea how big of a deal Levin really is until I did a little research on him in preparation for this post. According to his Wikipedia entry, “Levin has been called ‘probably the most influential conservative intellectual of the Obama era,’ while The New Republic has dubbed Levin ‘the right’s new Irving Kristol.’” (Kristol being a figure not unlike that of William F. Buckley, Jr. and the father of William Kristol, the editor-at-large of The Weekly Standard, a prominent conservative magazine/news outlet.)

Okay—anybody still with me? For heaven’s sake, Debi, when are we going to get to the subject you have in your title? (My habit of going off on tangents drives my poor SEO analysis tool in WordPress completely crazy.) Early in the interview Levin has this to say:

I think optimism is silly. I would never want to be optimistic. I am hopeful, And the difference is optimism is just expecting good things to happen, and that’s pretty ridiculous. But I think hope is believing that the resources are there for good things to happen, and I think that’s very true about America. So I’m hopeful about this country. I think it would be crazy not to be.

Then he goes on to talk about the current political situation, the mess we’s in, but that isn’t the subject of this post and so I’ll stop there. You can listen to the entire podcast at:

The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg, Episode #2: “Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?”

The Levin interview starts at about minute 14; I’d recommend that you skip the beginning.

But isn’t that a great distinction that Levin makes? In his mind, optimism is just wishful thinking, while hope looks for ways to solve the problems. I was reminded as I wrote this of a verse in the Christian New Testament book of Romans:

And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. (5:4 The Living Bible)

The Apostle Paul is saying here that each time we trust God and He brings us through a trial, our faith and hope are strengthened. “We walk by faith, not by sight” (as Paul says in another one of his letters, II Corinthians), but that doesn’t mean that we walk blindly.

Well, this post has taken an unexpected turn, but a good one—I hope! I think of the many times that I’ve been unjustifiably optimistic, thinking, ‘Oh, maybe it will be okay,’ when I haven’t actually done anything to make that good outcome likely. On the other hand, when you’ve done all you can do with what you have, there comes a point at which you just have to hope for the best.

I want to have more hope in my life and less unjustified optimism. How about you?

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