Saturday, October 29, 2011

Idealism and Reality

The giant and the conjurer now knew that their wicked course was at an end, and they stood biting their thumbs and shaking with fear. Jack, with his sword of sharpness, soon killed the giant, and the magician was then carried away by a whirlwind; and every knight and beautiful lady who had been changed into birds and beasts returned to their proper shapes. --The History of Jack the Giant Killer, The Blue Fairy Book

Organizing stories are fairy tales, parables, etc., that help us "organize" our ideas about good moral character.  In organizing stories, good always wins. Young children need organizing stories. They realize early on that "something is everywhere and always amiss." They need to know that dragons can and will be slain.

The opposite of organizing stories are narratives that display the complex nature of real people.  Some folks never grasp this.  It is easier to believe that people-- especially people we do not know personally-- are perfectly good or certainly evil.  This is especially true when judging statesmen, politicians and economic leaders.  However, government officials grapple with their own selfish interests as well as governing principles.  New dilemmas arise in business and economics, defying empirical analysis and leaving leaders nonplussed.  Senators and CEOs are complicated, just like the rest of us.

 Today the world is exploding with children who think they can fix things. Young people come equipped with a sense of the ideal which struggles to rise to the surface whether it has been nurtured or not.  I think this is a good thing, although it can be exploited by evil.

We do not need to give up the idea that dragons can and will be slain. They can be. They will be. But we need to understand that human beings are fallible-- more than that, they can be stupid and greedy and even evil (in some areas) at the same time that they are kind and generous and good (in other areas). People are weird. They have blind spots. NO ONE is going to behave righteously every time. Sad, but true. It is just not going to happen. That is reality here on earth.

The broader reality is that the good is coming, and it will not be ushered in by earthly governments, or by pure capitalism, or by parents or teachers or students or bosses or workers getting everything "right".

These two truths-- the earthly reality and the broader reality-- are not commonly taught to children today.  (They are learned through immersion in great literature, especially the Bible.  But that is an argument for another day.)

Should we try to get everything right? Yes, we should. We won't make it, but we will get closer than if we don't try. Should we be surprised when others do not get it right? No, we should not. People are unrighteous. Should we work toward improving the likelihood that people will do right? Yes. (I'm sure I don't have to point out that we as individuals do not get it right either. We already know that about ourselves. Right?)

As a nation we need to understand that people sin. This is wisdom. We also need to learn how our systems work. Unfortunately, a lot of what gets passed off as teaching is merely a list of talking points for one agenda or another. When we learn to value mercy and truth more than we value our own 'side', we will be able to educate our children. Perhaps then our children will be able to articulate what they think is right and wrong about the world, and act effectively in the direction of right, instead of blindly following utopian promises or flailing around in anger. But only if they first understand that all have sinned, and do sin, and will sin.

An article that illustrates the impact of earthly reality on ideology.

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