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Pandora's Jar of Hope

Updated: Dec 11, 2022

"Hope is optimism with a broken heart"

Nick Cave (Faith, Hope and Carnage)

One of the things that brings people to therapy is hope. This brings to mind the story of Pandora’s Box. The classicist Natalie Haynes in her book “Pandora’s Jar,” turns a feminist lens on this myth. Pandora means “all giving” or that which sustains life. She was curious and couldn’t resist opening the jar. Curiosity is a valued attribute in the therapeutic journey, often cited as a cornerstone of mental health. In her re examining of Pandora, Haynes evaluates hope. As she writes

Is Pandora committing one more act of petulant cruelty by making our lives miserable and then depriving us of even Hope? Or is the jar a safe place, where we know we will always have Hope, as we traverse a world which is now so much more frightening than it was before the jar was opened.

This paradox is also reflected in language. Hope has positive connotations in English whereas in Greek or Latin, it is more accurately translated as expectation.

In the Greek myth, all the evils in the world were released into the world but only hope remained. The ancients knew that hope can be the one thing that sustains us, enabling us to withstand all the evils. However, they also saw it as potentially the biggest evil of the jar. It can prevent necessary action. Indeed hope can be the largest obstacle to growth when not grounded in reality. If hope tips into can delusion, this prevents us from dealing with our difficulties. Deathly obsession can fall into this category. For example, if you fall in love with someone unavailable or unsuitable. The fantasy becomes a retreat from life. However, obsessions mired in hope can also inspire imagination, art and creative possibilities. The resulting dissatisfaction can lead to the beginning of an inner conversation about what we want and play can begin. Sometimes wishes do come true in part, fleetingly. It can be interesting to observe what happens when we wish for things that other people have. If hopes are dashed too many times, envy proliferates. That is when unrealised and unrealistic hope adds to the evils of the world rather than being a treasure. If we stay in the jar with only this kind of hope as our companion we stay stuck.

In conclusion, hope can help or hope can hinder. As a starting point, perhaps we need it. Then comes the difficult work at trying to get some of what we are hoping for; this involves action. Perhaps Pandora’s beauty lay in the fact that she held the jar that contained all the difficulties of life. The gift of Pandora needs hope in order to create purpose, meaning and joy. Facing reality requires access to beauty and love. Maybe this is our saving grace.

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