Monday, December 16, 2013

The Holidays and Falling Short of Ideals

Letting go of the way we wish things ideally would be can lead to more human development than the ideals themselves.

article by Lawrence H. Staples

There are many worthy arguments for the existence of ideals. These include the role of ideals as an organizing principle around which people with similar values can gather. Like goals, ideals motivate us.

We would have to be blind, however, not to acknowledge their danger. By definition, when ideals are our guide, we strive for perfection that does not exist in the real world. We strive for something that in the long run will frustrate us and depress us because we will fall short. We will experience failure. Goals are different. Having realistically attainable goals can serve us well.

Real development often requires the sacrifice of high ideals; it often demands that we get real. Letting go of the way we wish things ideally would be can lead to more human development than the ideals themselves. We can’t give up or fail to meet ideals, however, without incurring guilt. I asked a patient what he thought it would take to really satisfy his self-righteous mother, who admired preachers. He said: “In my case I probably would have to become Jesus.” It made me think that Jesus probably is the unconscious model for the goals of achievement for many children. If the child is not to become the savior of the world, he simply is not special enough. It is a terrible burden to feel that one can please or save a parent only by achieving such heights. Failing one’s parents is like failing God, and failing either one brings guilt. Letting go of the need to be a savior can be a daunting task. Once children become aware of the burden they are saddled with, they feel anger—that the goals they are encouraged to attain are for their parents, not for themselves.