Thursday, March 10, 2016

Facing Reality Head On

We each have a vision of how the world should be, and most of us work to at least some degree to make that vision a reality. We volunteer, we teach, we work, or we just do. Whatever our method, we are generally more happy when things are moving toward what we prefer and less happy when they are moving away. The trouble is, though, that far too often it is our own actions - even actions that we take toward our vision - that push our vision away and make our goals more difficult to achieve.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. It’s an aphorism that has been repeated so many times in recent history that it has become almost trite, but it is still true. Ideal is ideal, of course, but ideal is also often out of reach. If not out of reach, it usually cannot be reached in a single step. You have to walk the path to reach the peak, and refusing steps along the way because they aren’t the goal is the easiest way to prevent ever reaching the goal. Getting to a difficult goal is usually an incremental process. You improve a little at a time, using each improvement to build to the next, and stacking them all up until you have reached your goal.

This is how reality works. Wishing otherwise won’t make it otherwise. You can’t get six-pack abs without going through the process. You can’t become an expert mechanic without going through the process. You can’t learn a new language without going through the process. We know this. We expect this in most of the things we do in our lives. Why then do we forget this when it matters?

To use the bullying example I was discussing recently, ideally we would like to tell the victims of bullying to never change, to stand strong in being who you are no matter what, but standing strong has consequences, and sometimes those consequences are worse. Personally, I’m not about to tell a child who is already hating life that his best course of action is to take steps that are going to make his personal situation even worse. That doesn’t even make sense. I want to make life better for that child, not offer an empty gesture that isn’t going to help anyone. I can tell that child to stand firm, and incur continued and possibly increasing bullying, or I can try to teach that child tricks that might prevent bullying. In some cases, those tricks might require that the child in question makes changes, or doesn’t show certain things quite as much, and the child will need to balance the changes with the consequences to determine the better course of action. We won’t get a perfect situation, but we might get a better situation.

Politically speaking (and this is absolutely one of the only times I will ever mention politics in these pages, because it directly pertains to the subject at hand), I lean libertarian. My ideal state is for people to leave people alone, to help each other voluntarily, and to respect the rights and personal space of all of the other people so that we don’t have to try to control each other just to accomplish living on the same planet. I am fundamentally opposed to any law that seeks to coerce people into anything other than staying out of each other’s way (grossly simplified, but I hope you get the idea). Frankly, that puts me at odds with the vast majority of existing laws. I have the option of fighting these laws constantly or just ignoring them completely, both of which would almost certainly lead to a shortened life (or at least shortened as far as the amount of time living that life outside of a cage goes), or I can prioritize based on what I can put up with in relation to the potential consequences. I’ll take the best option I can get that doesn’t result in making things worse, and I won’t deny that better option just because it’s not perfect.

We have to work with the reality we have. Very often, our goal is to change that reality, but you can’t change it by pretending that it has already changed. That doesn’t work. That’s just a good way to get run over by a reality that isn’t very good at pretending. Reality is stubborn, simple-minded, and totally lacking in imagination. Have you ever seen any old cartoon or comic with a farmer trying to get a mule to do something the mule doesn’t want to do? Reality is a mule. Getting it to do anything other than go in the same straight line it’s already using is hard work, and will often requires many starts and stops, wrong turns, false starts, bumps and bruises, and no small amount of harsh language.

One thing that makes it easier, though, is working together. The more people we have pulling on that silly mule, the more likely it is to change directions. It’s difficult to get people to work with you by berating them, though. That’s another of the mistakes we make far too often. We’re trying to make things better but we make them worse instead by making enemies out of people who could be allies. Like it or not, people are human, and humans have this thing called psychology. Psychologically speaking, if you start by cussing someone out and telling them how stupid they are, they’re not likely to be inclined to see things your way. Again, that’s just reality. Sometimes people are stupid, but are you making things better by rubbing their noses in it? That can be satisfying, I’m sure, but are you more interested in being satisfied than in achieving your goal? Sometimes we need to take a step back and look closely at what we’re actually doing. If we’re making things worse, we’re probably part of the problem, no matter our intentions.

Reality is a tricky beast, but there are levers and switches and buttons that can be used to your advantage. If you’re honest about what it is in the first place, what you want in the second place, and how the path works between those two points in the third place, you can usually find ways to out-trick the beast. You have to take it for what it is, though, first. You have to face reality head on, don’t flinch, and work with the tools you have. Our best work with flawed tools will outperform imaginary work with ideal tools every time. Don’t let perfection be the enemy. Be better, and let the rest work itself out along the way. We’ll get there.

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