Don't Be Ideal
Updated: Dec 19, 2019
Today's article is a contribution from author and educator Michael Merten.
The ancient Greeks were an intelligent bunch. They figured out the earth was round based on the horizon, they made the most effective military formation until the Roman legion, and they had some pretty bangin’ philosophy. It pays to pay attention to them, especially when someone as smart as Plato was doing the talking.
Plato believed there was some sort of ideal, a perfect form of how things should be, of which all that happens and exists is but a flawed replica based upon that form. His philosophy formed the primary outlook embraced by the western world...until his student Aristotle came along.
One concept the Greeks were particularly keen on was the idea of Prudence. Prudence consisted in seeing what path led towards the best practical outcome. Obviously, that's something we'd all like to possess. If we did, our lives wouldn't just be simpler, they'd be better.
They also believed that we had to work with what we have, and try to take that and make it as much like the form or ideal as possible. A large part of the political writings of Aristotle have to do with acknowledging the ideal and assessing in what way he can bring an imperfect society closer to that ideal. This is prudence: recognizing what you have and what you can accomplish and using the ideal as a guide to what to do. If life gives you limes instead of lemons, make limeade.
Obviously, this plays into the cliché of “Not making the perfect the enemy of the good.” (The thing about most clichés is that, while we roll our eyes at them, they always contain a certain amount of truth.) In order to have a productive and fulfilling life we need to have goals, aims, and dreams; some just for the day, others for the month or the year. Unfortunately, life does not always provide us with the necessary materials or situations to achieve these, at least not immediately. Instead of falling into a funk because you didn’t accomplish your goal, or you missed that opportunity, make the best of what you have.
Now, by no means am I endorsing settling. The key part that the ideals and the forms play is that they are something to always be strived for, never neglected or forgotten. They are something to always be strived for no matter the situation. The key is to simply move as far toward it as you can with what you have. To paraphrase another Greek, the most admirable thing is to never cease seeking.
Point two: Humans are not perfect. We just aren’t. No matter what faith or belief you ascribe to, man is imperfect. It is important to realize that we cannot achieve perfection. Despite this there are people who love us anyway. Your friends love you. That love is something in itself that can help us continue to strive to our ideal, no matter how poorly we handle a shortcoming, no matter how far from the ideal we feel, we are loved.
There are times when we fail our own expectations and think that there is no way we could come even close to our goals, that since we can’t love ourselves at this moment that no one else could love us either.
You must refuse the funk, and acknowledge that despite falling short the best with what you have can often bring you closer to your endgame than you originally thought.
Sometimes it may not feel like much, but every step towards that ideal is a step worth taking, even if it is smaller than you’d hoped.