French’s Two Words for ‘Hope’ Helped Me Endure the Pandemic

In the midst of uncertain times, here’s what I’m learning from “espoir” and “espérance.”

During a recent exchange with a colleague I knew to be quite ambitious, a few of his words stuck with me: “I would rather live a difficult present with my resources than continue to save resources for an uncertain future. Who knows? The way things are going, the world may end tomorrow.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many to think that it is difficult or even impossible to continue to dream and believe in a better future.

Like my colleague, many around us have abandoned projects and are touched by various levels of depression that keep them from looking toward the future. Some have succumbed to suicide when they saw no other way or because they could not imagine living without their close family members who were tragically taken away by the virus. Many hopes have been dashed.

In my country of Benin, many businesses have been forced to cut back on work hours, which has resulted in staff layoffs. Some families have struggled to provide for their basic needs. Certain products that are now difficult to obtain.

And that is not all. The International Labor Organization announced last year that “global unemployment will reach 205 million people by 2022.” How can we not lose hope when faced with these challenges?

Two kinds of hope

Unlike English, which uses the word hope broadly, the French language uses two words that derive from the word espérer (to hope): espoir and espérance. Both can first refer to something hoped for. In this sense, the word espoir usually refers to an uncertain object; that is, someone who hopes for something in this way does not have the certainty that it will happen (“I hope the weather will be nice tomorrow”). On the other hand, espérance describes what, …

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