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Something More Than Hope

“You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” — Jim Collins

At a mass of remembrance recently, a Catholic priest, speaking on faith in the face of loss, said that there are two sides of the coin with regard to hopelessness: despair and practicality. His point was that, not surprisingly, we lose hope when we reside in despair, but we also do when we succumb to logic and believe that there is nothing that can be done about the matter. There’s a place for hope in this world, he suggested, and it requires the antonyms of despair and practicality: faith, confidence and maybe even a small but healthy dose of idealism.

His words triggered a memory of the “Stockdale Paradox”, which Jim Collins explains quite effectively in the quote above. Faith and hope are great, but we have to be practical too. There are sometimes things out of our control that must be dealt with. When we balance those two sides of the coin, we might realize the optimal outcome given the circumstances. Or we might not, but we gave it a good fight. Life isn’t fair: We must reconcile ourselves to that fact and do with it what we can to stay afloat. The alternative is to sink.

Surely, there are things we have no business hoping for. Sometimes the brutal facts make hope a frivolous distraction. Then again, sometimes we get so caught up in things like despair and practicality that we give up on hope too soon. The world is full of stories of epic comebacks fueled by faith in the outcome and decisive action despite ridiculously bad odds. Being from New England, I can quickly think of two favorites:

“Don’t Let Us Win Tonight!” — Kevin Millar, Boston Red Sox, before the game 4 comeback against the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series. The Red Sox were down 3 games to none and came back to win the series.

“Let’s go, baby. It’s going to be one hell of a story.” — Julian Edelman, New England Patriots wide receiver, prior to the Super Bowl comeback from a 28-3 deficit against the Atlanta Falcons to win the Super Bowl.

In both situations, the logical thing to do would be to sink. But each team flipped the script and did whatever they had to do to win in the end. Granted, sports aren’t life, but they represent the dynamic nature of living in a contentious, competitive world that doesn’t care about our feelings, only the results.

Brutal facts are indeed often brutal, and mandate clear thinking and deliberate action. There’s no going through the motions in such moments. Unwavering faith may fuel you, but surviving and thriving require heightened awareness and strategic execution. And even then things don’t always go our way. But then again, sometimes—sometimes, they do.

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