Once, in a psychology course, my professor stood in front of the class to give a lecture. One student raised their hand to ask a question. We had been talking about emotions for the past week or so.
“What is the greatest human emotion?”
“Well, that depends on who you ask,” our professor said, “and what you mean.”
She explained that many psychologists believed fear to be the most influential emotion. After all, it is connected to our survival instincts.
It’s responsible for the little habits and precautions we take in everyday life, like looking both ways before we cross the street and locking the doors before bedtime. It’s the reason that things like torture and militarist societies exist.
It can motivate people to do things that they would otherwise never do, like tell on a loved one or spend years in isolation. Fear even affects people physically, she explained, sometimes giving them enough adrenaline to run further or lift heavier than they could without it.
And it doesn’t even matter if the fear is legitimate. People can be afraid of things that never even existed. Like the young girls in Wisconsin who stabbed a friend in the name of the terrifying internet myth Slender Man.
My professor was right. I think about the times I’ve experienced fear – not just the times when I was a little bit afraid, but truly fearful. It was all I could think about. I could feel my heart pumping. I could feel my breath quickening. I even got shaky. None of the other emotions or memories or ideas I had previously existed anymore. The fear completely took over me. In that moment, I was fear.
The class began to agree with her, but then she changed her course. There was one other emotion that some psychologists believed was more influential than fear. There was one reason that people eventually came out of hiding and that whole societies banded together to overcome oppressors.
Hope is the emotion that overcomes fear and creates change. It’s the emotion that has carried revolution after revolution when people finally come together and realize that they’ve been living in fear and unrest for too long. Hope is the reason that people give everything from donations to advice.
It was the reason that a bunch of young people went to the polls in record numbers to elect the nation’s first Black president. A campaign built on one word – hope.
Hope is the theme of our generation. It’s the reason Toms are a name in the fashion world – a shoe that promises to give some of its proceeds to provide shoes for kids in other countries. It’s the reason we still go to college in record numbers despite the fact that we’ve heard the term “recession” being thrown around more times than we can count. It’s the reason we still believe in love and get married after watching divorce rates soar to almost fifty percent.
It’s why we are STILL fighting for things like LGBT rights, women’s rights, civil rights, and racial equality.
And even though we are often told that we are not fighting hard enough, or fighting the right way, or sometimes even told that there is no reason to fight, hope is the reason that we continue to fight.
Hope is what my generation stands for. Hope is what I stand for.