Why Ideals Are Important: Finding Purpose and Meaning Through Self-Imagination

What’s the use of ideal

As a teacher, my students often ask me: “Teacher, you are always talking about ideals. In this era, the pressure is so great, the competition is so fierce, and the society is so ‘squeezed’, is it inappropriate to talk about ideals?”

This is an important reason why I chose this topic today. We often think that the most painful situation in a person’s life is falling into despair. But in fact, there is another situation that makes people more painful. What kind of situation is that?

In the 17th century, the British writer Milton described such a situation in his “Paradise Lost”: it is stuck between Eden and hell, neither is full of despair like hell, nor is it full of joy and satisfaction in Eden; There was no firm place to stand, and therefore no freedom of movement; it was a viscous swamp, a black hole of emptiness.

Such a zone, Milton gave it a name – Chaos Realm.
What does the “chaotic realm” in life refer to? It’s because you don’t seem so miserable, you don’t have nothing, but you don’t have much; it’s because you seem to have such a life, but this life is not what you want; it’s because you want to break through, but you can’t see hope ; It is you who want to change, but can’t find the path.

The tasteless land, the tasteless life, and the tasteless work will all bring the experience of being in the realm of chaos. Once we fall into the realm of chaos, we will be in such a state – neither “lying flat” nor “rolling up”, our life seems to be stuck.

The emotional expression directly brought about by this experience is called internal friction.

Are we really alive

Now, some people seem to be doing well, but still feel pain, why? Because these people are troubled by “pseudo-life” and “pseudo-freedom”.
What is pseudo life? What is false freedom?

When we are born, the real world already has a set of value standards, behavioral norms and life templates.
For example, what kind of books do you have to read to have a future, what kind of school to get into is a top student, what kind of job is decent and dignified, what kind of life is considered successful, what kind of Life is a mess…and there are established answers to these. Living and acting according to this established answer, we are disciplined by society in this way.

But do we realize it? Many times, we will feel pain, self-blame, low self-esteem because our behavior and achievements do not meet these answers, and we will start to deny ourselves, and often even feel that we have failed.

We are alive, but many times the meaning of our life is just a definition that has been set. We think that we have made many choices in our lives, and these choices are free, but when faced with a question that has an answer, how can we talk about our freedom? There is a sense of absurdity here, which is called pseudo-life.

There is a line in the novel “Ulysses” by the Irish writer Joyce: “Every second, every second. Every second means every second.” Every time I read this sentence, I have Very deep understanding. We live, time ticks away, but nothing remains. Because if we live a pseudo-life, we cannot talk about the word “creation”. Life without creation has no real meaning. The busier we are, the more empty we feel.

How to End the Pain of Your Life

So, how should this state of affairs be ended?
This brings us to our key word today—ideal. Before talking about ideals, we must first beware of a question: Has your ideal been put on the top of the pyramid of comparison?

Such as making money. After joining the workforce, everyone wants to earn more money so that they and their families can live a more comfortable life. This is a very warm ideal.
But if your ideal changes from earning more money to being richer than others, then your ideal will be pushed to the top of the pyramid of comparison.

These ideals raised to the top of the pyramid are all traps of comparison thinking and utilitarian traps. What is the concept it sets? That is, you have to stand out, you have to compare others, this is called success. This kind of successful thinking has nothing to do with most ordinary people. But such a so-called ideal has involved many ordinary people.

Therefore, all living beings can only look at the top of the pyramid helplessly, feeling that life is bitter, and ideals are the source of bitterness in life. People have to part with their ideals, because without ideals they will not be sad. I don’t think ideals can take the blame, because this is not a real ideal.

What is the real ideal

What is the real ideal? It is a kind of self-imagination, imagining the future life I want to have, imagining what I want to be. Let me still give an example of a literary work, that is Goethe’s “Faust”.
There was an old doctor named Faust. He spent his whole life in the study and studied all his life, and others respected him very much. However, when he was old, he suddenly found that this life was wasted. Why? Because he found that in his whole life, he had learned the same skill – copying and pasting. He wrote so many papers, in fact, he cut and pasted them everywhere, and no one read them after they were written.

Faust felt that such a life was meaningless. So he prayed to the gods, hoping to live again. Later, with the help of the devil, he drank the elixir that could restore his youth, returned to 20 years old, and lived another life.
How was his second life? He fell in love, but failed; wanted to pursue an official career, but failed; pursued an artistic dream, but was shattered; finally, he wanted to build a Utopia, but failed.

When I told this story, many students felt the same: “Teacher, this is me! Isn’t this my life where I have achieved nothing?” But Faust was very satisfied, and God was also very satisfied. God thought that Faust represented the whole world. Human beings live out meaning.
How should this be understood? What is the value of a life that accomplishes nothing? What did Faust do? In fact, Faust has achieved one thing, which is to maintain a strong self-imagination and the courage to explore the possibility of self and life. If this path doesn’t work, I’ll try something else; if it still doesn’t work, I’ll keep trying; if the direction is wrong, I’ll adjust.

This kind of not giving up on one’s own life, or the exuberant imagination of oneself, makes it impossible for any wall to push his life to a dead end, and it is impossible for any kind of narrow reality to imprison a man like Faust. The life of such a person.

We will find that this kind of imagination about self will become the spiritual spring of life. With this spring, life will not be crushed. Even if a boulder strikes, it is about to crush us, but if we have ideals, we will keep an imagination of ourselves anyway-as long as I have other possibilities, then there is still room for my life.

This is the role of self-imagination: even if you are in a desperate situation, you can restart your life in a desperate situation. But how can self-imagining be achieved? We can think about two questions.

The first question: who do you want to be? What kind of life do you want to live? Have you seriously thought about these questions? We will find that an appropriate self-imagination must be based on an understanding of ourselves.

The second question: Do you know what your interests are? You have to know what you are good at and what are your characteristics. Only in this way can we create self-imagination in a “customized” way, and such self-imagination can become our ideal.

What to do if you fail

Some students would ask me: “Teacher, I was moved by your exposition and decided to pursue my ideal. However, I suddenly thought of a terrible question, what should I do if I fail?” Failure has always been an opportunity for us The question of fear.
Do you still remember Hemingway’s novel “The Old Man and the Sea”? “The Old Man and the Sea” is the story of a loser. As a fisherman, the old man has not caught fish for 84 days. This failure was big enough, so everyone laughed at him.

A lot of people get frustrated when they’re in this situation. When failure comes, what should we do? The old man believes that you only need to do one thing right, that is, “put the hook in the right position every day”.
The so-called failure is a small coin, one side must be a blow, but the other side is an opportunity. When Faust prayed to the gods for the second life, he made a very strange wish: “If I can live again, please let me bear the misfortunes and blessings of the world, to fight against the storm, to meet the sinking ship fragmentation.”

Faust hopes to get a second life that is full of wind and rain and ups and downs. Would you look forward to your second life like this?
Why did Faust make such a wish? Because what he prayed for was not the ups and downs themselves, but the opportunities to improve his abilities time after time. Many times, our abilities are stimulated only when we are hit by wind and rain, and released under pressure.
So, we understand why Hemingway said that “bones always grow strong where they are broken”. We have to go through wind and rain to inspire a stronger self. That’s the value of failure.

I also want to pass on this passage to everyone: “To bear the misfortunes and blessings of the world, to fight against the storm, and not to be discouraged by the sound of the sinking boat.”