It is amazing to me how disconnected or distorting our ideals can be in relation to real life.  Marx had an ideal about freedom; then Stalin followed that ideal into perversion, killing millions of people.  Tolstoy focused his fiction on Christian ideals of fairness, but he was violent with his wife.   D.H. Lawrence wrote about ideal masculine sexuality, but he didn't like actually having sex.

 

These days, I'm working as a therapist at a hospital for patients suffering from severe psychiatric problems, the majority of whom have come here after serving jail sentences.  One 30-year-old man on our ward (I'm changing some details to protect his privacy) has a history of sexual assault.  At times seems pretty sane.  He finished high school and speaks eloquently.  But his sanity is tortured by violence and hallucination.  One reason he's at our hospital is that, a few years ago, he raped a stranger in a parking lot. 

 

The other day, I saw him in the T.V. room where he was watching an Oprah special about healthy living.  I made conversation with him by asking if he liked to read: "What's your favorite book?"

 

He answered without having to blink or think about it: "Everything by Jane Austen."  Surprised, I asked why.  "Because of the way people love each other," he said.  "Because of the romance."

 

The difference between his behaviors and the story he told about what he wanted was interesting, though not surprising.  A lot of us identify our ideals--and even say we're living in accord with them--while our life story is a different story.  At worst, our lives are inverted nightmares of our ideals.  More often, ideals sit alongside what we do with minimal influence--like lullabies, soothing, but not shaping, our daily routines. 

 

I wonder how often the books we read hold this detached relationship from what we really do every day.  We can read about some Tibetan monk, for instance, who has the self-control to sit calmly through starvation or war.  We might promise ourselves to insert some of that patience into our lives.  But by 5:00, in a hot parking lot, we find ourselves cursing a driver who cut us off.  Maybe this is because books are entertainment more than they're practical homework assignments.  Life is an entrenched habit.  Entertainment provides a brilliant alternative.  But it would take a lot of work to step out of habit and personality to incorporate some shiny new ideal into life.

 

Of course there are other reasons why we can speak about ideals without living them.  One reason is that ideals live in words, and words are liars.  "I value kindness," I might say.  But "kindness" is a limp or watered-down word which sounds good but gets more complex when I try to apply it to nuanced situations.  Was the jerk who cut me off "kind"?  Do I need to be "kind" back?  How?  Words and ideals tell polished stories that are hard to apply to real life.

 

I wonder if any of you hold ideals that you wish were better integrated into life.  How could you better integrate one of them?

Comments
by on ‎09-30-2009 05:49 PM

More often, ideals sit alongside what we do with minimal influence--like lullabies, soothing, but not shaping, our daily routines.

 

OUCH!


Words and ideals tell polished stories that are hard to apply to real life.

 

WOW!

 

Of all the wonderful ideals there are, it is difficult to decide which, if any, are worth giving one's life for, or, at least, how much.  If one is lucky enough to live among a number of them, it is certainly easier to just enjoy and cherish them.

 

by on ‎09-30-2009 08:16 PM

I don't know how to answer this.  I think holding some ideals puts me in an envious position, or maybe it's people I'm thinking of.... because I know I can't live up to them. I don't like that position..soooo....? I think truth is high on my list.  I know I'm not a liar, but I can sometimes stretch the truth until it becomes fiction.  I hate that when that happens.  Here we are, back to writing, again.

 

Two things I get out of books the most, is also that search for love (needn't be romantic), and hope.  The more I work it out, along with the characters, it's like a practice season in my head, I guess.  I do have both love and hope in my life, but do we ever have enough of it?  Or can we do without either one, without becoming a ward of the state?

Like I said, I really don't know how to answer this.

by on ‎09-30-2009 09:13 PM

So where does someone like Rep. Alan Grayson from Florida (D) fit into a discussion like this, where he seems to have really gone out on a limb to provoke some movement on attaining a health care plan? 

 

What is madness?  What is sanity?  What is figuring out and understanding and developing the skills for what can be one's sphere of influence, to use Stephen Covey's terminology?

 

Is there a difference between our ideals shaping our lives versus our ideals supporting our lives?  To me, the former feels far more risky and demanding -- the second is more like a gift that carries. But, if some manifestations of those ideals don't exist in our lives, it is hard or impossible for them to be supportive.

by on ‎09-30-2009 10:12 PM

I think we've talked a lot about this, in other ways, at other times. 

 

For the most part, we're shaped early in life...rules(others' ideals) are set up; reactions are formed, then on into adulthood we go, whether aware of our 'self', or not.... unless you recognize a change is needed, by a possible trauma to your life, you simply coast along, not really noticing change is needed.  So why even look for ideals?  Then Ideals can again be set upon us by outside influences, perhaps reading something you've never thought about until that moment, or something someone says to you,,,,,you reflect.....now....you're old enough to understand this process....weighing the alternatives, checking your reactions....we can accept them or deny them....as long as we are aware of them.  But, how to handle them, is knowing how they can affect us,  and how we can affect people around us if we adopt them.  It's generally sometimes easier to talk a good story, than to live it.  When denial is present, it's always going to be a train wreck!  Total awareness has always been an ideal for me.

 

Pepper, I don't think what shapes us always support us.  As with Ilana's patient.  He knew he had something missing in his life, but he has no way to process it, to apply it to his life, now.  Being aware, then connecting the circuits, that's the link.

by on ‎09-30-2009 11:38 PM

Pepper, I don't think what shapes us always support us.  As with Ilana's patient.  He knew he had something missing in his life, but he has no way to process it, to apply it to his life, now.  Being aware, then connecting the circuits, that's the link.

 

Kathy --  certainly, what shapes us doesn't always support us; but let me try saying what I intended another way.  When I used to be involved in life planning, one of the exercises was to identify five or so ideals that were important to one's life -- usually from a long categorized list to which one could add one's own.  I can still name those that I identified as important to me.  But, I think my life has been more supported by those ideals being present in my life (like beauty, like freedom, like ....) than that I have molded my life to create, sustain, support, and extend those ideals.

 

My own reaction to Ilana's patient is to wonder, with deep sadness, whether he had a life with enough of those ideals he sees in Jane Austen's novels to sustain him, to teach, to generate hope, ...  Clearly, I don't know enough to really comment -- much is also physical and chemical and human will and ....

 

Maybe I have just been reading Shelley's Frankenstein too recently.

by on ‎10-01-2009 02:21 PM

Pepper,

 

This subject went to bed with me, last night, even though I read before I turned out the light...I couldn't shake this topic.  Perhaps it is the book we are reading that does influence our thinking, more than we realize.

 

Shaping, and supported by ideals.  I don't think you can't have one without the other.  Both important.  Once we've shaped an ideal, it becomes a part of our lives, whether we like it to not.  I could be getting this all bassackwards!

 

This is a difficult topic for me to express myself in.  My method is to throw out ideas, and sometimes just going in circles to try to find answers.  I've never really talked about ideals, per se.  My life has been mostly spent in talking about the differences in setting, and reaching goals.  How do we achieve an objective?  Where it comes to other people, I simply make guesses, based on what facts I have, and apply answers from my own life experiences.

 

Most of the time, I don't consciously think about beauty, and freedom, things that are just there, or how they influence me as an ideal.  I recognize them by feeling them, I simply accept them, gratefully.  I've spent most of my life reshaping and changing my history, to be able to live, and feel, in the present.  It was given to me in warped perspectives, they weren't my ideals.  I had to retrain my thought processes, finding out what was important for me.  It's complicated.  We are all so different, with different needs.  I think the more we try to recognize who we are, or want to be, the visual of an ideal becomes integrated.  My last thoughts last night, were....every book I've read, it seems, I do find those two words,  love and hope.  Maybe these ideals just find us?  As I've always said....a book will find me, no matter what.

 

Ilana asked:  Words and ideals tell polished stories that are hard to apply to real life.  I wonder if any of you hold ideals that you wish were better integrated into life.  How could you better integrate one of them?

by on ‎10-01-2009 06:33 PM

Since Ilana mentioned Tolstoy, I thought last night of the final pages of Anna Karenina, where Levin thinks he has had a revelation of divine meaning and goodness, but still can't conduct himself the ways he had hoped to do thereafter.  His quandry stretches from 740 or earlier in this on-line copy (not all pages available) to his concluding frustration on 754:  "I shall go on in the same way, losing my temper with Ivan the coachman, falling into angry discussions, expressing my opinions tactlessly; there will still be the same wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife; I shall go on scolding her for my own terror, and being remorseful for it...."

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