No matter what our motivation may be, if we are not realistic we will not fulfill our goal. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
Ah, the age old battle between reality and idealism. We all want something, and much of it is idealistic to some extent. The question is how realistic are they?
It isn’t that I am against idealism, I just recognize that it will take time to get to there. The path between where we are and where we desire to be is long, and passes through reality.
If we are unrealistic, we will hurt our cause, perhaps even make it more difficult to turn our ideals into reality.Unfortunately, that happens, and it is sad.
The quote helps us remember that idealism isn’t an end until it has been reached. It is a goal, and we must deal with reality as we work our way towards that goal.
Why is a dash of practicality with our idealism important?
Let’s start with an example. Yes, it would be nice to have a world with no swords. But in such a world, the first person who made a sword would be King. Any who would oppose him would be cut down. So others would make swords. Pretty soon, ideal has given way to reality, and weapon proliferation has occurred.
Don’t get me wrong, ideals are great to have. But if you aren’t realistic, you will have difficulties accomplishing anything. People become so polarized that they cannot work with anyone who isn’t as ideologically pure as themselves, they will not compromise, and they fail badly at making any progress.
By pushing too hard or trying to move too fast, resentment builds. That resentment, in turn, makes it harder to move forward. It may even build a backlash, where the end result is you are farther from your ideal than when you started, and now the path forward is much tougher, as people have made up their minds.
Sometimes you can take large steps forward. Sometimes, you have to take small ones. Sometimes, the best you can do is try to hold your own. For any given ideal, there is someone who holds an ideal which is counter with yours. This will lead to issues, and could lead to conflict. If you aren’t practical, it will get ugly.
Where can I apply this in my life?
What are the “hot-button” issues for you? For some it may be climate change, for others it might be nuclear proliferation. In each case, we have seen idealists say we must stop all carbon emissions, or ban all nukes. But in each case, their harshness and uncompromising positions have left many in the larger population cold to their cause, harming it.
I think that pollution is bad for us. But most of the first world is past that. The developing nations would be badly hurt by some of the carbon laws being proposed. Reality is these countries will remain impoverished and have no chance at moving forward without polluting. Do we force them to live in the stone age?
I also believe that this planet is now too small for nukes. But like a kingdom without swords, the first one to build a sword in secret will become king, whether anyone else wants them to or not. That is reality, and far too many anti-nuke movements refuse to recognize that there are people and governments who would behave that way.
In each case, the harshness and refusal to acknowledge reality hurt their causes. If carbon is destroying the planet, how can you allow developing countries to pollute? Or if they can, why can’t the rest of us? If we want a nuke-free planet, we have to be able to trust other governments, and somehow verify disarmament. How do you trust North Korea?
But geo-politics isn’t something most of us have the ability to influence. So the question becomes how we use this in our daily life. I used to be a very strict disciplinarian. Until I had kids. They don’t have the ability to understand complex rules, so you have to keep it simple enough for them to understand.
I also had to learn to pick my battles. I no longer go after them for every minor infraction, and only focus on the larger ones. Even then, I try to limit myself to those which would cause them harm, immediately or long term. Reality is a far better teacher than my ideals will ever be. And they learn a lot from reality.
Where in your life do you tend to be less than flexible? What topics do your friends not discuss around you? What conversation is sure to lead to a fight, or at least an unpleasant argument? These might be signs that your position, as great as your ideals may be, is at odds with reality as it stands today.
Remember, there have been people against slavery since shortly after the first person was enslaved. Even today it exists. But it is rarely out in the open anymore, because, after centuries of work, reality is almost completely aligned with that ideal.
Where can you become a bit more flexible? Not abandoning your ideals, but recognizing reality and trying to find a way to work within that framework. The ideal is still the goal, but the path must go through reality. There will be setbacks, things will not always go your way. But if you try to fight reality, you will lose.
What are your ideals, and how well have you integrated them with reality? What can you do to move your cause forward without alienating the people you need to make it happen? That is something to think about, right?