When children draw a rainbow, it’s usually a part of a feel-good picture, pretty often with the sun being part of it. Several times I’ve seen the sun put centrally under the rainbow’s arc. It shows how deeply positive is the perception of the rainbow in our human culture; how we associate it with hope and happiness. But those children’s pictures are at odds with the real thing. In nature the rainbow can be seen against the backdrop of rain or dark clouds, with the sun behind us. We can’t see the rainbow and the sun shining at the same time. Quite often we see the rainbow after the rain has passed by, and that’s why it’s such a potent cultural symbol of hope and joy heralding a better time ahead.
As our lives are marred by a wide range of unpleasant occurrences, from the everyday hustle and bustle to grave suffering and death, we look for remedies that would ease our existence and its pains. Many ‘sellers of hope’ prey on such a need, offering things and solutions to sort things out, and quite often they remain popular and profitable despite peddling a total hoax. When people believe that something is helping, no arguments to the contrary can convince them otherwise. Sometimes people feel so helpless that they cling to their hopes even if these are baseless and empty. When hope dies, nothing else remains.
Why is hope such a strong, indispensable part of our mental constitution? Mostly because it makes our miserable lives more bearable by offering the prospect of a better outcome to our current situation. That promise keeps us going forward, gives us strength to face difficulties and to overcome them, prevents us from despairing and hoisting the white flag. Hope is that part of us which looks forward to the future, not back at the past.
But hope can also be deceptive and misleading. It can lead to disillusionment, bitterness or disappointment; it can also bring great suffering, mental and physical. This happens when hope is based on false or wrong grounds, or offered by untrustworthy or deceptive agents. Hope can be a reliable source of strength and determination when it’s grounded on solid premises mixed in with a bit of luck. This kind of hope has to engage the critical mind, a mind able to discern and recognise false claims or self-convincing arguments. Such a firm hope looks at the black clouds in front, but in the multi-coloured arc can recognise the sun shining from behind.