Recently, I watched a classic and widely acclaimed movie called The Shawshank Redemption. I am positive that nearly everybody reading this has seen it. It's often a pleasure to view a movie you have not seen in many years, as I find that my brain forgets many of the essential little details and nuances that contribute to the uniqueness of that movie.
There's a memorable scene where the two main protagonists, Andy and Red, are sitting beside each other in the prison courtyard and debating if they'll ever get out of Shawshank prison (1). Andy relays his future plans to Red, stating that if he gets out, he's travelling to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, where he'll buy a hotel and an old boat and take his guests out charter fishing; he asks Red if he'd be willing to join him. Red, who seems to be the more realistic of the two, thinks about it for a moment but concludes that there's no way that he could make it on the outside, and he even goes as far as to tell Andy that he shouldn't be thinking about getting out at all as they are in prison, and that's just the way it is. Andy then mentions that famous line - "I guess it comes down to a simple choice really; get busy living, or get busy dying."
This exchange could be interpreted at least a couple of different ways. Andy might say that his view represents hope whereas Red's view represents surrender, but Red might say that Andy's view represents disillusionment whereas his view represents acceptance of an impossible situation. We all know what happens of course; Andy's hope refuses to accept the situation and he eventually escapes. The main message of the movie seems to be that one should never give up on hope, with Andy later writing to Red that "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
Let's examine hope.
The Oxford Dictionary defines hope as a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen (2). To me, the key words in this definition are "expectation" and "desire." An expectation is defined as a strong belief that something will happen or be the case (3). Clearly, Andy fervently clings to the expectation that he will one day be free from Shawshank, for he would not speak with such passion about it if he did not. A desire is defined as a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen (4). By the same reasoning above, Andy desires to leave Shawshank.
Logically then, expectation and desire were essential ingredients in Andy's hope that he might one day be free. But were expectation and desire the only ingredients sufficient to result in his eventual escape? Putting this question another way, was hope alone enough?
The answer to that question must be a resounding "No."
Hope With Action
At the end of the movie, we the viewers are shown how Andy escaped Shawshank. For every night over nineteen years, he meticulously chipped away at the soft stone wall of his prison cell with a small rock hammer, hiding handfuls of the chippings in his pockets and disposing of them in the prison courtyard the following day. He hid the rock hammer in his bible, and he hid the enormous hole in the wall with a poster. These actions were deliberate, focused, and goal-oriented, the goal being escape.
In this way, Andy combined his hope with a plan of action, and it is the combination that resulted in the eventual escape, rather than hope alone. Had he relied upon hope alone, perhaps by spending his days and nights passionately expecting and desiring to be free but never putting a plan into action, he almost certainly would never have escaped Shawshank. Hope was the initiating factor, and it kept Andy going over the years, but without his deliberate actions there could have been no freedom.
Thus, the true message of The Shawshank Redemption should not be that one should never give up on hope that a particular thing will happen, but that one should never give up on hope as long as they are doing everything within their power to make that particular thing happen.
So while I love the line about getting busy living as opposed to getting busy dying, I respectfully would change the wording in Andy's letter to Red in which he describes hope to read "Hope without action is not enough, and may even be a bad thing, whereas hope combined with a plan of action is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
Do you hope that a particular thing will happen, yet you do not do everything in your power to make that thing happen? If so, change now, put a plan into action, and take your shot; however, if you can't put a plan into action at some point in time then it may be best to abandon that hope, for hope without action will ultimately hurt you.