Ideals are tricky things: on the one hand they help us aspire to being something better than we are, which is a good thing. On the other hand, when we can’t live up to them the result is not so good.
Because, if you don’t live up to your ideals you start feeling guilty, beating yourself up about it and that doesn’t make you any better as a person. Just a more bitter one, which in turn makes you probably less fun to be around.
I’ve seen people go from lively and fun to defensive and cramped. I think it was ideals that did it and it was a sad process to watch. What she got in return was community. I wonder: where is the line between a healthy devotion to a common cause and an unhealthy situation?
Don’t get me wrong: one of the things that I’ve always found oppressive about our current society, or rather the slice of Dutch society I grew up in, was the lack of idealism. I don’t know where I got it from, but in my teenage years I thought it was normal to shoplift. That illusion didn’t last long – in the end I reasoned that the shops would go bankrupt if everybody shoplifted, so I stopped. Helped by a friend who definitely did NOT think it was a normal thing to shoplift even something small.
Perhaps what I wanted were guidelines, some clarity and structure. Of course, as a teenager, I was also trying out the boundaries and I think I was disappointed at how hard it was to find where the boundaries were.
But I guess I’ve grown up a bit and now at 37 I’m finally starting to understand what made my Christian grandmother feel what was so oppressive about Christian Moralist attitudes. To explain: my grandmother, a minister’s wife, loves the church. She loves playing a prominent part in the community and did that well. She loves the stories and contributed her own only vaguely moral children’s stories to a liberal Dutch Sunday school magazine.
The problem with morals is that they take psychology totally out of the equation. On the other hand, moral relativism ignores the effects of what we do on other people.
I don’t smoke. I don’t eat meat. I don’t drink alcohol. But on none of these issues do I feel the slightest inclination to proselytize. Please let everybody do what they feel is best.
I wonder – is that a testimony to my self-confidence or to my lack of caring about other people? I don’t know.