In part one of this series, Will, Emotion and the Force of Idealism, I wrote about the use of will, its limitations and its relationship to the unknown. Through practice and persistence we can learn to improve the strengthening of our resolve. We can also reduce the degree of our own frustration by learning to understand how and when to accept that which is beyond our immediate control.
In part two, Healthy Mindedness and Emotions, the message is that we can learn to know our inner life…particularly the way our emotions influence our thinking and our behavior. When we see more clearly, by knowing and managing our emotions, we are more able to focus on the ideals and values that can direct the course of our lives and the societies we are a part of…

Part 3: The Force of Idealism

Ideals, values, meaning-making, dreams, hopes…there are many ways to name our highest aims and greatest human potentials. We are creatures who seem to have an ability to hold ideas that can give us choices about how to behave and influence the way we see things.

Let’s identify some of the ideals that are shared universally, that are found in every culture, including primitive tribes. Some will resonant louder than others and there are many that are unsaid here, ones which may serve to guide your choices.

Let’s start with Love of different types… all of which honor our connection to others and to life itself. It might be said that all other ideas are an effort to embody the ideal of Love. Justice and fairness are part of how we make it possible to live together. Peace, both within ourselves and in the world is valued everywhere and even fought for. Learning and discovery are natural to children. Balance… understanding the order of nature and our place in it. We value the Freedom to be ourselves, to express ourselves, to develop in ways that are in line with our perspectives and desires. There are many more ideals that are universal.

Identify, Envision and Recognize

Identifying and clarifying our ideals sets us up to envision how they combine and come to life in the things that we do. When we imagine ourselves living lovingly, being fair, feeling peace within and offering peaceful interactions, following our curiosities by learning and discovering, balancing our emotions and the structures of responsibility with the freedom of playfulness.

When we see our lives being guided by what is idealistically possible we start to understand the force behind it.

Envisioning our ideals is not about the future. It is not about a condition that we create or discover later on. It is in knowing what is important to us and in recognizing it when we see it in us and around us that we become a part of what changes things.

William James says, “I do not believe it to be healthy-minded to nurse the notion that ideals are self-sufficient and require no actualization to make us content…Ideals ought to aim at the transformation of reality–no less.”

The task of the will is to know what to focus on and when we understand and balance our emotions, so that they don’t pre-occupy our thoughts and distract our attention, we are able to see the ways that these ideals exist all around us and in us every day, all the time. Optimism is a belief in the good of what is possible and it recognizes that it exists now. It carries with it that which influences its outcome. A positive attitude is more than useful; it is necessary.


William James might have been a father who often said, “pay attention!” He taught that in every moment we are making decisions what to attend to and in the realization of this we choose the course of who we are…individually and collectively. “My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items that I notice shape my mind—without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground—intelligible perspective, in a word.”

I watched a TED talk recently by Julia Bacha, the title of which is “Pay Attention to Non-violence”. Her message illustrates the point of choosing what to pay attention to very well. When people see their ideals in action, they join others to carry them out. She exposes the social error we tend to make by focusing on what is wrong, what we are fearful about, and what is dangerous about the human experience. We call it the 6 o’clock news.

Idealism vs. Perfectionism

Being a psycho-therapist, I am aware of how a good idea can get turned upside down. Idealism is the ability to see the perfectness that exists in concepts that we can imagine…love, justice, peace, etc.  It is brought to life in the effort to make the abstract into the concrete, the standard into the behavior. Idealism accepts the gap between that which is perfect and that which is not. In the acceptance is the place where change can occur.

Perfectionism uses the same ideas…ideals (standards) and the influence they have on what we do, what choices we make. But perfectionism expects those ideals to manifest under the influence of our control and judges everything less as unacceptable, as failure. It is often fed by an overdependence on control, the incomplete understanding of will. Perfectionism has it half right…to look to what is possible…but ends up creating a self defeating process.

The Leap of Faith

gallery_a3The final section in this part on the Force of Idealism is about what happens when we have the parts lined up. Developing our will comes from an understanding that we are participants in the course of our lives and that of the collective human experience. We aren’t along for the ride, without responsibly or influence.

We can learn to feel confident and competent, to learn efficacy and a humble self assurance. We also can learn to regulate our emotional responses to life, neither burying them from a lack of attentiveness, nor allowing them to dominate our thoughts, perspectives and actions.

We can find an emotional balance that liberates us to engage in the present moment fully…and with the purpose that our ideals provide. When we weave our highest desires for life, both our own and that of the collective, we create happiness, joy…we discover the satisfaction of living meaningfully in the moment. We may see that we can be helpful in helping others to unburden

The last step is trust. Maybe it is the most difficult step; maybe it is just what we live for.

Being a fan of sports, and knowing I am not alone in this, I will point to the moments we all love to play out. Maybe we will call them the moments of truth. It is when someone who has prepared for this moment seizes it…makes the goal, hits the home run, strikes out the batter or hits all net as time runs out. We all see the magic (the divine) in it…the way in which the ego disappears and the natural belief is unrestricted, unhesitant…blurring the line between the individual and the collective will to perfection.

William James put it this way:

“Suppose, for instance, that you are climbing a mountain, and have worked yourself into a position from which the only escape is a terrible leap. Have faith that you can successfully make it, and your feet are nerved to the accomplishment. But mistrust yourself, and think of all the sweet things scientists have said about maybes, and you will hesitate so long that, at last, all unstrung and trembling, and launching yourself in a moment of

despair, you roll in the abyss. In such a case (and it belongs to an enormous class), the part of wisdom as well as of courage is to believe what is in line with your needs, for only by such belief is the need fulfilled.

Refuse to believe and you shall indeed be right, for you shall irretrievably perish. But believe, and again you shall be right, for you shall save yourself. Make one or the other of two possible universes true by trust or

mistrust…” [James, 1896, p. 59] …the wisdom and the courage… to trust or mistrust…to love or fear…to be or not to be…to connect or to be fooled in to the delusion of aloneness.

I have a follow up to the statements made in these three parts. It is about how we apply it in real terms in the life we are currently living. We are facing issues of instability, violence and the limitations or our social systems. William James said, “The art of wisdom is the art of knowing what to overlook.” That will be the theme for the next part.