Ideal or Deal
Ideals are, well, ideals, and too often the gap between them and reality is akin to the Grand Canyon. Webster defines an ideal as “a standard of perfection, beauty, or excellence; often taken as a model for imitation.” That’s well and good; an attractive description. Since goodness makes the world a better place for everybody, why the disparity between the ideal and the real?
A congenial and mutually beneficial world (mutual meaning everybody) begins with a set of good foundational values. Values do not just pop up like dandelions; they come from somewhere. They come from deep, introspective thoughts born – or certainly considered and tested – in community. It’s much more complicated than an individual thinking up precepts for behavior, declaring them universal, and then imposing them on self and others. That is the modus operandi of despots and mentally ill people.
Historically, in most societies, a defining – or certainly contributing – factor is exploring the spiritual dimension in life for foundational values. Again, it is vital that the revelations (and interpretations of such) be examined and determined in community. History is riddled with self-proclaimed spiritual guides who have led people to anything but goodness. Obviously, there are varieties of spiritual foundations, often with significant differences between them. So in the end it boils down to a given individual thoughtfully embracing one or the other . . . the key word being thoughtfully. Example: it doesn’t appear very thoughtful to believe that if you do not adhere to what I discern to be spiritual truth I must kill you.
But there is another step once one adopts a value system, a set of ideal morals. One must practice them. Brain waves need be translated into concrete actions. This happens with intentional focus and lots of practice. Analogy: one can think that physical exercise will lead to better bodily health, but never do it. So it is with moral values . . . which arise in community, are held individually, and continually nurtured in community. If I come to realize that the way I live my life is contradictory to what I believe are my ideals, some serious changes are in order.
In one of Tami Hoag’s novels the author describes an elementary school teacher thus: “She probably still had ideals, and she probably still believed the world could hold up to them.” The assumption seems to be that one must compromise ideals to get along in the world. By my lights, that’s a pissant way to approach the concept of ideals. A sad state of affairs is when ideals are replaced by a concern for the deal . . . for getting the best deal for oneself. As the late Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India noted: “Failure comes only when we forget our ideals and principles.”