Lessons from Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales

Lessons from Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales: Part 13 Pandora’s Box

In Greek mythology, Pandora’s box was a gift from the gods to Pandora, the first woman on earth. Before leaving her on earth, Zeus handed Pandora a beautiful box with instructions never to open it. But Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her and she opened the box releasing all the troubles and woes – disease, sorrow, greed, hatred, greed, envy and death – to plague humankind forever. On seeing all this evil coming out of the box, Pandora slammed the lid of the box down, leaving hope inside.

To me, this raises the question: is hope a blessing or a curse?

As an idiom, “Opening Pandora’s box” is something that, when interfered or engaged with, creates a lot of unforeseen problems; the modern-day equivalent being “opening a can of worms”. Metaphorically the box represents the negative and positive consequences of curiosity, the evils inside the box symbolise life’s challenges and misfortune, while hope characterises the optimism and resilience to deal with those challenges.

Some suggest that hope is the ultimate evil, offering an illusion of comfort while keeping us in a state of perpetual longing, tethering us to certain outcomes and setting us up for disappointment. I prefer to think of hope as a divine gift, a comforting presence that helps us deal with trials and tribulations that spilled from Pandora’s box. Hope gives us the strength to endure, the optimism to dare to dream of a brighter future, and the resilience to face the uncertainties of life.

We tend to use the words hope and optimism interchangeably, but they are in fact quite different. Hope is process of setting goals and following through on them, the sense that things can be made better through action, while optimism is more ephemeral, a positive belief that everything will be okay. While both hope and optimism can benefit our lives, hope is more powerful that optimism, it involves personal agency and a sense of power and motivation.

Hope makes people act.

Hope requires more courage and perseverance than optimism.

‘Hope theory’ suggest that hope gives us the will, determination and sense of empowerment that allows us to reach our goals with research suggesting that hope supports wellbeing more than optimism or self-efficacy (our belief in our own abilities). Hope not only serves as a buffer against negative and stressful life events but also results in having a stronger sense of meaning and purpose and experiencing a higher life satisfaction.

Hope alters our perception of the world around us and as such a hopeful society equate to a healthy society. In his book “To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility”, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks teaches that optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better, hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better.

So yes, Pandora did release troubles and woes into the world, but hope remained. We need to shift our perspective on hope – rather than viewing it as passive wish, let us embrace the power of hope as an active force that propels us towards action, growth and transformation.

Hope is a catalyst for change, where we strive for better, regardless of the outcome.

Hope is an active choice.

So let’s choose hope.

“To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”— Archbishop Desmond Tutu