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.