Personal Differences: Is Hope A Lie?

I post often about cultural differences I noticed while moving from country to country. However, this post does not involve how different cultures perceive things, but rather a core difference that I noticed from person to person. You often hear people say things like “There are two kinds of people in the world, people who do A and people who do B”. This is one of those kinds of discussions.

While these are two extremes, and how far to either extreme you might be will depend a lot on your general anxiety levels, I find myself firmly at one extreme of these two scenarios.

Let’s say you are waiting for the results of something important in the mail. It might be exam results, the response to your college application, or test results from your doctor. You get home one day, and you find the letter in your mailbox. Do you

A. Stare at it, trying to find the courage to open it, usually asking someone else to open it for you and tell you what it says, or

B. Drop everything you’re doing and try not to tear the letter into pieces as you try to get it out of the envelope as quickly as you can?

B, definitely B.

For me, the wait is definitely the hardest part of any situation. I feel that humans have an amazing capability to adapt to the worst situations. However, as much as I can try to get used to the idea of the worst possible scenario before I know for sure, any preparation for it is always tinged with surrealism. A part of my brain knows it might not happen, and no telling myself that the worst case scenario is already here will be able to dispel that completely. I need to know, now, so that I can absorb it and move along with my life as quickly as possible. Waiting for the bad news is so much worse than actually getting it, for me.

The idea that “waiting is the worst part” is a very common one that many people agree with. Even Stephen King wrote about this idea, although in a very different context. Paraphrasing, he talked about fear, and not knowing what was behind the door was the scariest part. Once you open the door, even if it is the scariest thing you could have imagined, like a 6-foot tall cockroach, a part of you still says “well, O.K., it could have been worse, it could have been a 60-foot tall cockroach“. Many people agree that waiting sucks, and yet there are many people who react in an A scenario way. Why is this?

I can only speculate, being firmly a B scenario person. However, I think it has to do with hope, and whether or not you find hope to be a small comfort.

Not opening the letter means being able to cling to that small little bit of hope that everything is going to be fine. Opening it, and knowing the truth, will slam the door shut on that hope.

I see waiting to open the letter as a prolonging of the shitty waiting phase. For me, hope is a lie. Trying to hold on to hope when waiting is setting myself up for an even worse fall when, and if, the bad news comes. Hoping wont make my waiting time less stressful, but will definitely make the reality feel worse when it hits, the way any lie makes you feel worse afterwards. This is also why my friends and family know that they are not allowed to call or text me with the words “Hi, can we meet up this afternoon? I have something to tell you and it’s not the kind of thing that is appropriate to discuss over the phone”. Uh-uh, fuck propriety, you tell me NOW. Unless you can say that it’s exciting and happy news about you, you’re telling me right now what it’s about, or I wont be able to concentrate on a damned thing until I see you. Hope provides absolutely no comfort for me whatsoever.

I am in a waiting phase right now, and it is slowly consuming me from the inside. I have always wanted the truth, asap, rather than telling myself a pretty little lie in order to make the waiting period more bearable.

So now I open the floor to you. Do you think that hope is a comfort, or a hindrance? Am I being too harsh on the A scenario people amongst you, and is it something other than hope that causes you to freeze at the sight of the letter, rather than opening it immediately?

And finally, do you think that there is a correlation between people who find hope comforting, and religiosity? If so, is it the hopeful amongst us who are more drawn to religion, or is it religion that convinces people to feel comforted by hope?


  1. Vivec says

    Well, at least for me, I’d probably wait to open it, because I’m generally not in a good mental state to deal with big decisions like that. As such, I’d probably save it until my brain was in a state where I wasn’t at risk of doing something…harmful, should the result be really negative.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    Can I go (C)? As in, I’d not be in a tearing rush to open the letter, but neither would I be fearfully avoiding it. I don’t experience time as “waiting”, because there’s invariably something else I can be doing with that time. And when I finish doing that something else, if the letter’s here, it’ll get opened. If not, what’s the next thing on the list? Worrying is one of the most pointless human pass-times imaginable. If the thing you’re worrying about can be affected by your actions, then the only rational thing to do is take those actions to the fullest extent possible. If you’ve done that, there’s nothing to worry about because you’ve done all you can – studied for the exam, eaten healthily, whatever. If there’s nothing you can do to affect the outcome, then there’s nothing to worry about because doing so is pointless.

    Do you “worry” about whether it’s going to rain tomorrow? No. You pack an umbrella and a coat. You might “hope” it doesn’t rain, but really, what’s the point? It’s going to do what it’s going to do. All you need to do is deal with whatever happens.

    Life is mostly weather.

    Comfort from hope = religiosity? Probably. A friend of mine describes all praying as “talking to the weather”. I suspect that’s how it started: people begging or commanding the rain to stop, or start. Confirmation bias and wishful thinking combine to make certain people believe they have powers to talk to the weather and have it listen, and before you know it you’ve got a pope.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      That’s precisely why I said that where you fall between A and B will depend on your general anxiety levels. You seem to be wholly unaffected by anxiety, and I envy you that. Those of us who suffer from at least some form of anxiety know perfectly well that it doesn’t help or change the outcome, but our damned jerkbrains don’t want to cooperate with our rationality and logic. If you’ve never felt the leaden weight of worry in the pit of your stomach you might not be able to imagine which of the two scenarios you would fall into if you were to suddenly become anxious, unless perhaps it was something out of your control? Like, the letter (or the knock on the door) is someone telling you whether or not your loved one is amongst the dead or the living in the plane crash you just saw on TV. You know they were on that plane, but only half of the people on the plane survived, and you don’t know whether your loved one made it or not. Your worry wont change whether or not they did, of course, but would you still worry? Would you rather know sooner, by tearing open the letter, or later, by asking someone else to open it for you?

      • sonofrojblake says

        I’ve won the lottery, or not. I’ve got the job, or cancer, or not. So no… I wouldn’t worry, to the point that I can’t even really empathise with your description of the “leaden weight”. I have a vague memory of worrying about things when I was a kid. It is unclear to me however whether I grew out of it, or whether I never really worried at all but was performing worrying because I saw other people doing it. It feels like the latter, but memory is unreliable. I still sometimes “perform” worrying in order to appear less weird.

  3. lorn says

    I tend to take some small measure of comfort knowing that: 1) A great number of people have gone through the same thing and most came through it in fair enough shape. 2) Of the small minority that screwed up royally the greatest proportion survived and were able to rebuild their lives.

    Given 1 & 2, and taking into account that, for the most part, I’m roughly average in all major attributes the odds greatly favor a favorable, or better, or least not a catastrophic, outcome.

    Further, I’m pretty tough in mind and body and while I have gone through some pretty remarkably brutal situations I’ve always made it even if I end up with scars. My chrome is dented and I have my share of rust and frayed edges but, taking into account the history of hardship, I’ve always managed a fair accounting for myself. If I’m not as pretty as I once was, and occasionally I blow a bit of smoke, I’ve come by those deficits honestly.

    No matter, the dice are going to land, and, lucky or not, I will always be trying to do the best I can with whatever outcome there is.

    The sun will come up on a new day. Even if I’m not there to see it.

  4. dianne says

    I’m generally a “B” person, but when I’ve done something more like “A” it’s not about prolonging hope, It’s simply because the idea of whatever it is is so overwhelming that I can’t look at it at all. I absolutely never go “full A” in one sense, though: I would never ask someone else to open it for me. Somehow the idea of someone else knowing that I’ve (won the lottery, got into school, got stage IV cancer, have a 3 meter tall cockroach behind me, etc) before I do freaks me out more than the thing itself. I ask doctors to give me lab results so I can read them rather than telling me what they say. I don’t know, some sort of displacement of anxiety, perhaps?

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