As I go along I’m discovering two realities at once. A) That those cherished ideals that many teenagers and young adults hold onto will inevitably fade away as modern life makes its demands on their time and character, and B) That those ideals emerge partly out of the failure of the world to conform to our feelings.
I could have explained this second realization a long time ago, but as always the perceptions around the words in my head shift according to new shapes and sounds.
When most of us go about our routines, we don’t need to challenge our commitment to all the little objectives because they are straightforward and we’ve done them before: buy shampoo, take out the garbage, wipe down the counter, check the inbox. The goal is already in mind, so the task is so automatic that we don’t think about it. The same is true about fear or excitement: If I’m running away from something threatening, I won’t stop and consider the experience of my feet touching the floor, but instead continually examine my distance from the threat. The little objectives do not trigger what Heidegger calls the manners of Unreadyness-to-Hand: Conspicuousness (broken), obtrusiveness (missing), or Obstinateness (in the way). They don’t pull us away from a functional existence and enable us to see objects and environments for what they are. We just do them.
But the big goals can interfere with everything. So big, obscure, global, and intimidating that we latched ourselves onto them in order to make ourselves bigger than we are, and the consequence is that they interfere with the daily reality of our lives so much that we keep ourselves locked out of the social success we used to observe longingly from afar. Maybe we never would have reached for them if we’d just been in the right place from the start.
And yet this by itself says nothing about the worth of those giant abstract goals.
If we picture the people who have the things we want, who appear to have all the happiness and adventure we can barely admit we’re dreaming of, what do they believe about the deforestation of the Amazon, the ending of colonization and slavery, travelling to space, the conquering of the Holy Land, or [insert your unrealistic hopes here]? It’s refreshing to hear someone we think is stronger than us share in a particular hobby of ours, or hold onto an ideal we attach to weakness. But inevitably this just means there’s something we’re not seeing; an invisible piece of the puzzle that explains his desires.
So in my own case, the interests that came naturally to me also separated me from the pack, while continuous exposure to this environment combined with outside ideas resulted in grand ideas that began to form a larger-than-self goal, with an invisible identity attached thereto. Now that the social aspect, one of the primary causes, has been long ousted, the world all of a sudden seems to bright and too comfortable for me to logically pursue what once felt like the impending collapse of civilization, armed conflict, apocalypse… Logic always follows its master, the emotional side. Whatever predictions and assessments I’ve made about the future have the Angel and Devil on each side of my shoulder, distorting the outcomes according to how I feel.
I’ll tie this together with a rowing analogy: I’ve learned that rowing is all about exerting as much power as possible in a controlled way, in unison with other rowers. A rower’s bladework and body-movements need to be executed in a way that makes the boat move at the most efficient speed possible, all while his energy is being drained out of him.
So all that energy, if it exists, must be executed properly if it is to have a meaningful effect. It doesn’t matter in the end exactly why you want to do it, but that it’s being done effectively and in unison with what is happening around you. If doesn’t look like there’s any reason for a man to keep pulling, and he’s still pulling, then there must be some kind of spirit there, even if you can’t explain why.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. -Newton’s Third Law of Motion