The three most powerful words in the English language are also among the shortest—“hope,” “love,” and “we.” Two are basic emotions, one a concept. Yet they are intricately if subtly linked, and encapsulate all that makes us human. Combined, they define our reason for existence, and explain why we are the dominant species on this planet. Deprived of any one of these elements, the individual human can survive, though the quality of that life would be greatly diminished. Deprived of any two out of the three, life would be largely bleak and/or meaningless.
Love is universally acknowledged as one of the most basic of human emotions, though humans cannot claim sole proprietary rights to it. Other creatures are obviously capable of love, though its definition may be somewhat different from our own. Love propels, and despite frequent and strong evidence to the contrary, underscores our species, and while an individual deprived of love can survive, its lack stunts the soul as severely as a lack of water stunts the growth of a plant.
But after debating on which of the three words is the most absolutely vital to our existence as humans, the answer, to me, is quite clear: the most powerful word of all—the one most essential to our survival and growth as individuals and as a species is “hope.” It is probably the single most significant feature separating us from all other living creatures. It is the single, small candle which sustains us through the darkest night, and without its light we are truly, utterly lost. Hope is the most positive of emotions, and is based on an awareness of the future, which has never been—nor, probably, could be—proven to exist in any other creature.
All three words—“hope,” “love,” and “we”—are intricately interwoven. It's difficult to really imagine any one without in some way linking the other two. But while “hope” and “love” are basic, gut-level human emotions, “we” is a concept, and concepts are far more difficult to explain. The concept of “we” is loosely evinced in perhaps the majority of living things not rendered immobile by being physically tethered to the earth, like trees, plants or certain sea creatures. But it is “we” that is the most chimeric and, to me, the most fascinating and comforting.
While “we” may be a concept rather than a readily identified emotion, there is a strong underlying emotional component to the word. That component is clearly evident in patriotism, which is almost totally founded on—and is a perfect example of—both the concept and the power of “we.” On the most basic level, “we” is simply a definition of the herd instinct...the gathering together for mutual protection...demonstrated to some degree by most social creatures. Some species—ants and bees, for example—exhibit the definition and physical aspects of “we,” but with no emotional component whatsoever. Some of the more advanced and sentient of our fellow creatures—elephants, most primates, whales, dolphins—have complex emotions, including a sense of belonging and strong emotional ties to their group, but it is only humans who seem capable of being aware of the concept of “we” and why we do what we do.
The power of “we” lies in its assurance to the individual that he/she is not alone. For humans, there are an almost limitless number of groups to which the individual can feel he belongs: the biological family, friends, and expanding concentric circles of acquaintances, coworkers, etc. But when all is said and done, our need for love and for hope are inexorably linked to and enhanced by our ability to include ourselves in the mother-word, “we.”
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1).