"Those who apply themselves too closely to little things often become incapable of great things." Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Twilight of Ideals

"...we cannot understand greatness by studying the average." - 'Soar With Your Strengths' Donald O. Clifton & Paula Nelson

“I sought to do my own thinking, confining it to only experientialy gained information, and with the products of my own thinking and intuition to articulate my own innate motivational integrity instead of trying to accommodate everyone else’s opinions, credos, educational theories, romances, and mores, as I had in my earlier life.” Buckminster Fuller (received forty-seven honorary degrees, held twenty-eight patents, was awaarded the Medal of Freedom, and was the author of 29 books

Ideals are the primordial seed of motivation.  They are yearnings that impel action in humans.  The proper judgment of an ideal is not whether it is reasonable or not, but whether it compels life-affirming action.  Buckminster Fuller whose quote is above had the following ideal:

      "...lastingly improve the physical protection and support of all human lives, at the same time removing undesirable restraints and improving individual initiatives of any and all humans aboard our planet Earth."

This was a written record in his "Chronofile," on ongoing journal he kept about his life and experiences since he was twelve.  He made this entry at the age of 32; fresh out of a bankruptcy, which cost him monies that friends and family had lent him to start a business which went belly-up.  In his own words he was a "throwaway"...having an "economically dependent wife and newborn child, starting without capital or any kind of wealth, cash savings, account monies, credit, or university degree"  Hardly a 'realistic' ideal by someone in such a grave circumstance.  Yet failure to accomplish his ideal still propelled him far enough to be named one of the most influential people of the 20th century.  He even made it on to a U.S. stamp and had a molecule named after him (buckminsterfullerene or buckyball).

The beauty of ideals is not realism.  The beauty of ideals is their power to compel you to work towards something when nobody is watching.  It is establishment of a personal motivational integrity.  Whence this fear of ideals as big as Bucky's?

The ideal of being the wealthiest man alive was hardly a realistic outlook for a novice book keeper, who left high school to find work in the up and coming Cleveland area in the mid 1800's.  Yet from the very beginning John D. Rockefeller would say that he would one day be the richest man alive.  He was by most estimates the richest man that ever lived.

Exceptions are no less ripe for study than common occurrences.  It is customary to study the mean, or the common, or the deviation from such.  We have a love affair with the Bell curve and feel that all should tend toward the norm in life.  

One could argue that the progress of human civilization rests on the nurturing of 'unrealistic' life-affirming ideals.  Begin with those personal ideals that, though they may be scoffed or laughed at by those less inclined to dream, are the very sustenance and faithful accomplices in your journey through life.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best "God will not have his work made manifest by cowards."


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