Perhaps it depends on what is being despaired of and thus what the object of hope is but in general I think the word "despair" represents a horrible state of mind that should always be avoided.
For example if I were to say "Well, the only appropriate thing for someone like you to do now is to just allow yourself to fall into a deep despair." or "My advice to you is to just abandon all hope right now because nothing will ever save you." at best such statements would be sarcastic, at worst they are sadistic.
However, in this day and age it may be best to keep some of your most precious hopes secret where the rabble can't pick away at them or until a time and place when you are strong enough to defend them.
Points well taken -- your last paragraph, the need to keep some hopes secret, is something I'd not thought about before, and will be chewing on.
As for despair -- I suppose it is important to differentiate between temporary, perhaps long term, and permanent hopelessness. Certainly some situations are tragic/painful enough to create temporary despair in most people.
I'd be interested in your response to a few situations going through my mind. Suppose YOU are a counselor or comforter. First, do we agree on these presumptions? If not, change what you believe is flawed.
1) You understand how in many, although not all, situations, fostering false hope, particularly if that hope affects not only someone's mood but his behavior and actions and future, can be counterproductive in the long haul.
2) You understand that platitudes and cliches, religious or otherwise, don't "work" on most people in times of real distress.
3) You understand that while some people are stronger and more resilient than others, everyone has a limit to how much emotional distress he can bear without breaking.
4) "Happy pills" (antidepressants) don't work for everyone -- there are patients in whom the side effects (of say, Type A antidepressants) may include manic "bounce" or intolerable lethargy, over-riding any benefits, and Type B antidepressants are ineffective. This is not an uncommon situation.
So, as a counselor or comforter, what is your reasoning, and more importantly, what do you say to:
a) someone whose spouse, or child, or self, has just been diagnosed with a terminal disease which gives them about 6 to 12 months of increasing pain and extreme debility;
b) someone whose spouse or child has just tragically died;
c) someone whose entire family has just died, and this person is at least partially at fault (I've seen this one -- a wife and 4 children and he was driving the car);
d) someone whose child has been missing for 1 year? 2? 3? more?
e) two elderly grandparents sitting in the pediatric intensive care waiting room when the doctor comes in and informs them the final EEG was flat, time to pull the plug on a precious 5 year old grandson they've been raising -- clue: you know and they know the odds are they'll be dead before the agony and despair abate. (Yes, I've seen this one, too.)
f) your brother/son was killed in Iraq (in my day, it was Viet Nam) -- friendly fire -- this person was against the war, as are you
g) you're working in a horrible third world area where, honestly, most of the children are going to die of starvation as their parents helplessly watch (I know people who've been in that situation), and there's no relief in sight.
The list is endless, but you get the point. If you are "the comforter", "the counselor", what CAN you say? Is not their despair a normal reaction? Most people in such tragic situations, if acting relatively un-affected, are in serious denial, which is NOT a good natural defense mechanism. It's an unstable state and will inevitably come crashing down, often catastrophically.
Is despair good? No. But are we all immune from it? No.
Do we sometimes have to accept despair as permanent? In some cases of extreme and/or prolonged distress, especially in those who don't react well to medications, yes, it may be permanent.
If you disagree, what alternative solutions do you propose?
(These questions are, of course, open to anyone who wishes to respond.)