It Takes an Idealist to be a Realist

“If we take man as he is, we make him worse. But if we take man as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be.”  -Viktor Frankl

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It’s a new year, which means for the next few weeks we can expect to be bombarded with articles and blog posts and facebook links about starting over, renewal, changing habits, becoming a better person, etc., etc. etc. (quick tip: research shows that if you plan to change a habit – e.g. achieve automaticity vs. relying on willpower alone when engaging your new behavior – you must stick to the new behavior for at least 66 days. Just something to keep in mind).

The common thread among all of these bits of inspiration is, of course, the natural desire to be better than we are. In 1972 the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl gave a talk in which he addressed the dichotomy between who we are and who we hope to become. His lesson (via Goethe) was that you have to be an idealist in order to be a realist. If we simply take a man as he is, in reality he will fall short of that. But if we view a man as the best possible version of himself, then he just might possibly become the version of himself of which he is capable. If that’s not a good metaphor for the essence of a New Year’s resolution, I don’t know what is.

Happy New Year, everybody!

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