Friday, August 2, 2013

Be you, but better

I suspect that ideals are the true drivers of both a well-lived life and any real cultural progress.  It is a flat and dull life that has no idealism burning in its core.
   - Kyle Kramer (in "A Time To Plant")

So my friend sends me this quote above and asks me to write a blog post about ‘ideals’. The first thought I have is that I am a bit vague about the exact definition of ideals. I think it means 'one’s idea of perfection'. So I look up the definition but still feel a bit vague and terribly ambivalent about it. Actually, ambivalence is my middle name. So of course I reply to her that it is a tough topic to write about and I am not sure I can do it. Of course she’s not going to let me off that easy, so she said that I can take it as a challenge. My default reaction to challenges is to run in the opposite direction, as fast and as far as I can possibly get. I worry that there is only so many words you can type before people find out that it’s all pretentious crap. But me being me, I could not resist writing pretentious crap. Anyway, mulling over the subject, I ended up with more questions than answers. But if you have read any of my posts, you probably already know that by now.  

What it means to me...
To me, an ideal denotes an ultimate goal. It sets our way of life as an individual, as a community and as a culture. We dream of an ideal partner, ideal home, ideal life, ideal job, ideal family, ideal environment, ideal looks, ideal candidate, ideal place, ideal relationship, ideal practice... the list goes on. In theory, it is perceived somewhat as an unattainable bar of life, which is always set higher than what is currently possible. So does it spur us on to do better or does it seem Utopian and dishearten us and make us cynical? If you ask me, it depends on what time of day it is. No really, I keep going back and forth with it and can’t really decide. Typical.

What is it anyway...
How do we form our ideals? What is our idea of 'perfect'? Do ideals reflect our childhood dreams and influences? Do they shift with the sands of time? Do they bend as we evolve as individuals? Are they molded by our opinions and perceptions? Are they an inherent part of our psyche? If so, then there is really no getting away from them. Does it apply equally to all facets of our life or are there areas that are better left alone from the mark of ideologies (if you can't escape ideals, you can't escape ideologies either)? Do values define ideals? And if indeed our values are our yardsticks, why then do we need ideals? What is the aim in attaining the ideal state? Is it even necessary? Is it even possible? Or is it just merely part of the vocabulary, a word to indicate a perfect state, unnatural even, and hence not really applicable to life?

Do we need it...
On the one hand, having ideals feels a bit naive. It feels like aspiring to the impossible, a pipe dream, thereby not very pragmatic. They lead us to disillusionment. And when imposed, in ever so subtle ways, they take on shades of repression. We could get close-minded because of them. And what happens when ideologies clash? Do they cause friction rather than a sense of connection? Do they make us rigid in our ways? Do we feel the pressure mounting when time is ticking away and when the doors are closing in on us? And finally, do any of us ever realize our ideals? Is it the light at the end of the tunnel or is it just an idea of the light at the end of the tunnel?

My theory...
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that idealism could be viewed as a science. There is logical reasoning behind its existence. It lays down the rules, so to speak, of how we move from childhood through adulthood and to our twilight years. It sets the stage for expectations. It gives us something to strive for, constantly. It fuels the myriad experiments in our lives. Experiments that are in effect an exploration of what we envision in our ideals. But as we all know there is never one path to discovery. Nor are they all clear-cut. Most of them are buried in brambles. They are the metaphorical ‘Road Less traveled’. Anyway, I digress.

Back to experiments - What happens when our experiments fail? And what about unrealized and disproved theories. Where does it leave us? To paraphrase Robert Pirsig in ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ - Science strives to prove predefined truths by hypotheses and experiments. But how can you define truth when the number of hypotheses is infinite and thus rendering the so called truth, inconclusive. In his words, 'For every fact, there is an infinity of hypotheses'. Transferring that supposition to the world of ideals, what is ideal for me, might prove to be imperfect for someone else or under different circumstances, even for me as well. What then? Do we get worked up about it? Do we second guess ourselves? What then is the purpose of ideals?

Maybe, just maybe, ideals work best when viewed as an art. You leave it to the individual - the beholder. And to the imagination. You see what you want to see. If it brings beauty to your world, by all means, let it. If it doesn't, then it is time to move on.

Maybe we do need it...
Having ideals, in its purest sense, is to hope for a better state than where we are now. It fuels our drive for a better world, for ourselves and for those around us. It becomes our guide to the way we live. And if we are tuned to it, it stokes the fire in our belly. It is our motivation. It calibrates our thoughts and levels our actions. It is our point of reference. Our North Star.


When ideals forge our lives, we hope that we eventually get there. And if we do, to realize that we did. And even if we don’t, which I dare say, is the case for most of us, there is always hope. Our efforts are our hopes. And where there is hope, there is possibility. Be you, but better might seem diametrically opposed. But if seen through the lens of idealism, that is in essence, who we are.

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