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Pandora’s Box


Published: 03/29/2012


The ancient Greeks had myths to explain every twist and turn of the human condition: why some people succeeded and
others didn’t, why there is evil, that sort of thing.

One of the foundation myths is about Pandora. It goes something like this: 
The gods gave Pandora a box packed with all the evils, which if released, would plague humanity with sickness, vice, passions, greed, envy and pride, that sort of thing.


Pandora’s task was to guard the box, to keep it shut so the evils would not break out to torment humanity. If they ever escaped, they could never be put back in the box.

Well, through carelessness, the box was opened and the evils flew out to torment humanity. However, one evil was kept
from escaping; the evil that remained trapped in the box was hope!


To the ancient Greeks, hope belonged on the list of evils; hope was a curse. Their basic understanding was that the course
of one’s life, the movement of history, what is and shall be, was determined by fate, by the fickle power of the ancient gods and not by our actions.


The powerful gods lived without rules, morality or discernible plans of action, even though their actions determined
outcomes on earth. In Homer’s Iliad, a story about the Siege of Troy – you may remember the Trojan horse, Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, Paris and Helen of Troy – the outcome of every event, who won or lost, was determined by the gods
working out their agendas and vanities.


With that belief, it is not surprising so many understood hope to be a curse, an evil. It was foolish to hope, for no one can challenge the power of the gods or fight against their destiny.


Believing in fate, the ancients tried to placate the gods, whom they believed were open to flattery and bribery. They performed the required daily rituals, gave gifts to the gods, made sacrifices and went on pilgrimages to sacred places to honour them. When this activity had uncertain results, their fatalism led them to come up with philosophies to deal with despair.


Stoics trained themselves to expect nothing, hope for nothing and accept whatever comes, and thus they’d never be disappointed, hurt or broken. Marcus Aurelius, a famous Stoic, wrote these words: “In all this murk and mire, in all this ceaseless flow of being and time, of changes imposed and changes endured, I can think of nothing that is worth
prizing highly or pursuing seriously.”At the other philosophical extreme, the hedonists developed the sensible policy of ignoring the world and all its troubles and concentrating as much as possible on personal pleasure, ‘to eat, drink and be merry’. If there is nothing we can do that matters, let’s party.


Today, stoicism and hedonism are found everywhere one looks; hope doesn’t get much press.We are fed on a view of the future that is unrelentingly grim: the course of our lives is set by our genes; we will soon run out of food, gas and oil; the rich elite always rule and the 99% will always be ground down; global warming will bring massive migrations, revolts or genocide. The terrible list seems endless. Any talk of hope is dismissed as blind optimism.


During the 2008 election primaries in the United States, Barack Obama said

“… hope is not blind optimism; the nation was built on hope. Hope is that real thing inside us that insists, despite all
evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and work for it and fight for it.”


The ancient Greeks and the modern pundits with their endless messages of despair and disaster have it all wrong. Hope is
a great blessing; it is the oxygen of the human spirit. Hope has the power to rescue and restore, to rebuild and revitalize the lives of people and the course of history. Far too many people believe Doris Day declared an unchanging universal truth when she sang the sad song ‘Que Sera, Sera, Whatever will be, will be, The future is not ours to see …’.


Those who build their lives on hope are the ones that beat the odds and build the future. 


Jim Campbell is an Oakville-based author and writer. Please send your comments to
or via post to 115 George St., Unit 1524, Oakville ON L6J 0A2.


Illustration for Home Digest by Rui

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