Small white flowers against an earth bank

Values, compromise & how things are

How often in life are people going into things with the finest of intentions, only to have that spirit crushed by the weight of “how things are”? This idea that, somewhere, there’s a point between “dreams”, “money” and “reality” where the desire to make a difference gets outweighed, buried or suppressed. As if we, with our values, are walking through life trying to emerge unscathed by it all.

Isn’t youth generally a place of idealism? A time when we believe things can change and expect the world to be good. This childlike spirit that gets, almost inevitably, broken by the realities we encounter over the years. As if life in the real world “means” to have hopes crushed by how things are and the imperfection we find at almost every turn. (Notes One)

Does it have to be that way? Sometimes it seems we’re compromised simply by being part of this system with all its inequality and injustice – this inherited burden humanity’s path to this point places on our shoulders through no fault of our own. This sense of almost everything we meet in life being founded on unequal relationships, environmental destruction or questionable values.

Is idealism simply unrealistic, then? In reality, maybe there’s always compromise by way of us inheriting flawed systems based on an imperfect sense of how we might bring ideals to life. Is that what life is? Being on the receiving end of all we’ve been working towards so far – all the good and all of the bad. This idea of progress being a journey, each generation striving to improve on whatever’s been handed to them. (Notes Two)

In that light, are we right to crumple under to weight of “how things are” and resign ourselves to making the most of what’s on offer? Giving up the fight – or, giving into temptations – we may find ourselves reassured by those who’ve taken similar paths, but where does it leave things down the line? If we’re jumping in with good intentions, having them crushed and justifying that as inevitable then our future seems bleak.

Maybe it’s simply that realities are complex and, working within them, ideals struggle to hold their own? Perhaps, painting compromise as an irredeemable moral failing, we find there’s no place for idealism alongside all life’s practical demands. Can we operate within flawed, compromised systems yet still hold to the highest ideals once paths are created for realising them? (Notes Three)

Life sometimes seems so all or nothing, with anything less than unerring perfection being worthless. But, is that realistic either? It seems unlikely many would already be fully aware of all we need to be, risking us all just tearing one another down. Finding the right ways to bring values to life in every area where they count seems rightfully daunting: if it all matters, how are we to unravel compounded mistakes?

Defending all the points our intentional engagement serves to underline what truly matters may be hard, but where are we without it?

Notes and References:

Note 1: How much do intentions matter?
Note 1: The relationship between statistics & reality
Note 1: Where’s the reset button & can we press it?
Note 1: Values, and what’s in evidence
Note 2: Dystopia as a powerful ideal
Note 2: Ideals & the pursuit of them
Note 2: On whose terms? 
Note 2: Imperfection as perfection?
Note 2: Passing on what’s important
Note 3: Connecting truthfully with life
Note 3: Will things change if we don’t make them?
Note 3: Values on which we stand firm?

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