I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about a particular issue in this world and I think made an important and worthwhile change of view. It’s not really a complete 180˚ turn, but I am asking questions in a different way, and feel like I am becoming more grounded about the issue. That issue is for a later post, because in trying to understand my change of heart, because I feel like my original stance is not wrong. After some soul searching I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem was that I was being too idealistic and it has lead me to think about ideals, and how we can sometimes get caught up in them and that it’s not always that helpful.
So what is an ideal? We all have them. We’ve all known people that are overly idealistic and while those people can be enjoyable to be around and make for engaging conversation, sometimes such people can appear a little naïve. I may be one of those kinds of people at times. The dictionary defines “ideal” as person or thing regarded as perfect, or a standard of perfection, a principle to be aimed at. I realized that the reason ideals can get us in trouble is because they do involve some personal vision of perfection. I have written about perfection before and how it can be an unhealthy concept since a) we all have different ideas of perfection and b) to my knowledge perfection has never been reached, so do expectations of perfection do us a disservice? I believe at times they can.
If by definition an ideal represents some state of perfection, one that either cannot be reached, or cannot be reached easily or quickly being dogmatic about your ideals can lead to rigidity in thinking, it can also put you in a “future mindset” too easily when problems exist in the here and now. For example you may hold the ideal that war is pointless, unnecessary and we should all live in peace. I love it, and I’m on board. But unfortunately there is war. And while I do believe that we may someday get to a place where we find better ways to resolve conflicts than through war, it’s not clear that will happen anytime soon, and there is always the possibility that war may always exist, despite how obvious alternate solutions might be. So given that there is war, we can’t get caught up in an ideal of world peace that we forget to treat soldiers humanely who have been injured physically and emotionally and give them the medical and psychological treatment they need during, and after their service. Hell even the immutable physical law, the Ideal Gas Law which describes the relationship between pressure, temperature, and volume of a gas doesn’t really exist. The law describes how a gas would behave under ideal conditions. Ideal conditions that while we can get close to we have been unable to reach. So it’s important to remember that ideals are just that, and not in anyway a truth we can find in the present.
There are many fine and lofty ideals out there. It’s easy to just start thinking, I wish the world could just see things my way and it would be a better place, but that isn’t likely to happen. But I don’t think ideals are a waste of time. The part of the definition of an ideal that I like the most is it being something to aim at. Ideals are like far away targets and it’s easy to imagine yourself hitting the target, but instead we should simply see it as a direction to head and not worry so much about whether we get there. Focus on the journey and pay attention to what is actually happening. It could be that solutions in the present don’t necessarily conform to your ideals but they are the right thing to do for the time that you live in.
16 thoughts on “Ideally Though”
Your thoughts remind me of when I was teaching some years ago, and one of my students said “Miss, you expect us to be perfect, but we can’t do that!” I responded that I know no one can be perfect, but at least if we try, we’ll get close and do better in our lives than we thought possible.
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good thoughts Swarn….
Swarn, This is, in part, what I was saying in Thursday Black’s post about the ethics of automatic cars. So many theories about humans (economic, philosophic, some psychological ones) and the major religions (except Hinduism, it seems) do not take into account the actual human condition/nature. Theories of personality at least make known the assumptions upon which they base their concepts with Rogers being on the optimistic end (all people are born “good” in the sense that we all have mutually beneficial potential) and Freud being on the pessimistic end (born with Id as are all animals, but being social, we develop an ego and superego). Freud’s theory explains aggressive acts easier than Rogers theory does. Emily and I have been studying religions since October and a common theme seems to be a striving to be virtuous (and definitions of this seem similar with specific behaviors and reasons for it varying). Most claim one must transcend what it means to be human (except Hindus, who seems to say fulfill the stage of life and the life you find yourself in). The ideal seems impossible, “humans are fallible” is always thrown up as the reason, but never to give up trying. I think that is fine as long as we do not expect our fellow humans to be doing better at reaching the ideal than we are! “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (pardon a Jesus quote – but it fits here!). Or “don’t let the pot call the kettle black.” Interesting post! I want to hear about the issue that turned your view!
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Thank you for your comments Holiday! I guess a philosophy that we are intrinsically good, doesn’t necessarily contradict the idea of the Id, in my opinion. Partly because I don’t think we can ever completely remove the ego and superego from the equation. Even if you were raised by wolves, you would still look at ways of getting maximum benefit for the minimum amount of energy spent. If we look at our “animal brain” then part of that is reciprocal altruism. Many primates operate on this principle. The fact that cooperation and doing good things for others benefits our own survival and reduces danger to ourselves and requires us to spend less energy to feed ourselves than going it alone. So when it comes to the Id, I don’t think it’s all bad. It might be selfish, but then again reciprocal altruism sort of implies the fact that there really is no selfless act. And I am okay with that. It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel good by doing good things to others, and it doesn’t mean we are necessarily conscious of the fact that when we do good we are thinking about how it will benefit us in the future. In fact I think if a species were to be built on a principle of reciprocal altruism it would be an evolutionary disadvantage to be always trying to calculate what the benefit is to you and it would be an evolutionary advantage to give us feelings of well-being when we do good things.
You don’t have to apologize using Jesus quotes or biblical quotes. In the words of the Doobie Brothers, Jesus is just alright with me. lol I am much more interested in his humanity than his divinity though. And yes from what I read of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjun that the goal of every one is to merge with God. Thus they in some way still have they same idea that you are supposed to become one with God and thus become perfect yourself. Krishna tells Arjun that there are two paths. One is through meditation and transcendence but this path is one that few people have the ability to walk down and that for most of us we must simply as you say that you must work hard and do good at each stage of your life. I expect that implication is that you will sort of natural achieve merging with God through several incarnation cycles and through vigilance of working hard and being a good person. Of course as with all religions it becomes mired in rituals and mystics who would rather take the short path.
In regards to the issue that I have changed my views on, that will take a bit more time to write. Probably a two parter. But it deals with prostitution and pornography so it’s bound to cause quite a stir. lol
“In fact I think if a species were to be built on a principle of reciprocal altruism it would be an evolutionary disadvantage to be always trying to calculate what the benefit is to you and it would be an evolutionary advantage to give us feelings of well-being when we do good things.”
Swarn, this is a very interesting conversation. I hope you don’t mind me jumping in here. I agree that it would be and is an evolutionary advantage to give us feelings of well-being when we do good things. Recent neurological studies using fMRI scans show that people actually get a greater neurochemical reward (dopamine) doing good for others than for themselves. This knowledge can help to keep one humble, because even though we may think we are making sacrifices, we are still most likely benefiting. 😉
I am a defeated perfectionist, and I’m OK with that, but it took me many years to get to this point of embracing my humanness and life’s imperfections. My Christian upbringing was my greatest hindrance.The late Anne Frank is one of my heroes. She was a humanitarian and wise beyond her years, IMO, yet she knew nothing about neurological disorders, traumatic brain injuries, neuroplasiticity, attachment disorders, dopamine addictions, gene expression, etc, in relation to antisocial behavior — the major contributor to social ills. She held on to ideal that humans were/are, for the most part, innately prosocial. She was right.
Thank you for a very thought-provoking post.
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Thank you for your comments and compliments. I agree that Christianity, or other religions often define this state of perfection that can be attained. Or claim to have a deity which is perfection. At this perfection is supposed to be achieved, worshipped, considered real by followers. But I think Judeo-Christian religions are the worst in terms of really sort of being unforgiving for your mistakes. Even though Jesus was all about forgiveness, there still tends to be a little more fire and brimstone to religions that have a concept of heaven and hell. When it comes to Jesus I’ve always been more interested in his humanity rather than his divinity. To emulate good humans but who are still fallible makes more sense then trying to follow the divine. Since none of us are divine how can we ever hope to achieve such a state of being?
I think it’s not hard to feel that most of humanity is good when you start paying attention to it. Our cognitive bias to remember the missed forecasts, even though rare and not pay attention to the forecasts when they are right, extends to many things. Especially in this day and age with so much information it’s easy to be overloaded with bad news and fearful, horrible happenings. But our brains aren’t wired for being in large populations, but when you really think about it…the bad is really a small percentage of what’s going on, both in space and time. I think some people are just better at “doing the math” so to speak, and perhaps Anne Frank was one of them!
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By the way did you see the responses I posted on your blog about music? I responded to your reply, and given that you have seen everything else I have posted today, I thought you might have missed it. I know we’ve just met and I’ve already monopolized much of your time, so it’s not that I’m in a rush to read your thoughts (even though I do really want to know your thoughts), I just want to make sure you saw it. 🙂
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I did see it (both), and I apologize for not getting back sooner, but I well. I’m quite active on other blogs, too, so sometimes I get behind on my replies. Also, I was looking for a study I had somewhere in my files about brain fitness and neurogenesis, that I thought would compliment your reply, and haven’t found it yet. It may be tomorrow before I reply.
No problem…and again no rush…just wanted to make sure. Enjoy your Saturday evening!
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Thank you Swarn. You, as well.
Well done, well said! As a science teacher (as well as Social Studies/History teacher), and as part of this wonderfully imperfect human family I am a part of, WOW have I learned how to be more flexible! If there is one thing always true about us, this world, and our existence…it is impermanence. Not only are we humans about 65% water, our minds, hearts, and souls are about AS fluid, huh!? 😉
I second Victoria’s sentiment: good thought-provoking post!
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Thank you professor! I agree, surviving in the world requires the ability to roll with the changes!
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If everyone truly followed their ideals, it would be an interesting world! It seldom harms to do so, and if we even try to learn more about the world in the process, following your ideals can be a benefit for both yourself and others
Thank you for your comment! I don’t disagree with you, I just think there are extremes at both ends. I was simply talking about the one extreme. As you say some people don’t try to work towards any ideals at all. A world without ideals would I think be far worse than a world with them. And sometimes it depends on what that ideal is too.
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