Family · Parenting · Photography · Thoughts

Pretty Little Lies… Ideals

Perfect. Unconditional. Selfless. Black and White/Right and Wrong.

I’m going to apologize upfront as this is going to be kind of long and rambling, but these are things that have, yet again, been running through my head on an infinity loop.

I struggle with all of these concepts because I don’t believe they truly exist outside of the ideal or the theoretical. They are absolutes and the only place that absolutes have any real value is in math (which is so not my subject). But for some reason, they are ideals that we grasp onto and hold up as the end goal that is something to strive for, to become, to achieve… to use to judge when we don’t.

As an artist, I know there is no such thing as pure black and white. What we perceive as black or white actually contains multitudes of other colors and they are just that. A perception. Not reality. Every color picks up bits of the colors that are around it. That is the nature of light and color. People often use the analogy of there being an infinite number of shades of gray in between as a way of showing there are more than just two options, but even they are wrong because they’ve left out blues and reds and greens and yellows and purples and oranges and every other color. Science has shown us that there are certain animals that can see and process colors we humans can’t, so why in the world would we ever, in any situation think that there is only one or two sides or options, let alone the obvious grays that fall in the middle. It is the ultimate example of “think outside the box”.

You could nearly replace the black and white with right and wrong in all of that. Again, it is mostly about perception. Yes, there are things that, as a society we’ve mostly agreed are right and wrong things and this is why we have laws. Other than that, it all comes down to perception. Why does one person have to be right and the other wrong? Or one person more right than the other, when in reality they just have different perceptions. If applied from a color standpoint, they would be purple or even ultraviolet instead of black or white.

While the technical definition of selfless is “concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own”, most often people view it as having no motivation of self. That their actions are to the sole benefit of others. That is utterly false because at the base, at the very core, all selflessness is based on self. In the end, things are said and done because they make a person feel a certain way about themselves. Either to feel good, or satisfaction because of this thing they have done, or to relieve feelings of guilt, or any number of other reasons.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not mean that in a negative way at all. It is just what it is, though I know some will take that as a negative thing. Much like they would consider consequences being a bad thing when in reality they are just the results of actions. They can be either good or bad depending on the situation. You ate because you were hungry, the consequence is that you are no longer hungry. You ate something you are allergic to, the consequence is an allergic reaction. Even then, it is a personal perception of whether the consequence was good or bad or something else all together.

There is no such thing as perfect. It is an ideal. A created concept that is impossible to achieve and only sets a person up for failure if they try. Yet as a society, we still push for people to strive to be perfect. In looks. In their jobs. In their roles as family members, children, spouses, parents.

And then we have unconditional. That one… that one drives me up the wall. It is another one of those concepts that, while technically accurate, we tend to twist it to really mean something else entirely. It literally means without condition or limit. It is most commonly tied to the concept of love and is often equated to acceptance. That is where I struggle the most. Parents are to have unconditional love for their children. Spouses are supposed to love each other unconditionally. When you equate unconditional with acceptance, you have just created an ugly, impossible mess.

As a spouse, do you continue to “unconditionally” love the other person when they have an affair? Multiples? What about abuse? Are you supposed to continue to love them without condition then? Without limit? Hell no! Most people can agree there are actual limits there. Then, what happens if the person you fell in love with changes to become someone you no longer even like? Are you supposed to stick with that unconditionally? It is possible to fall out of love. I can say unequivocally that I no longer hold a shred of love for my ex.

Now, what about a parent to a child. I can hear the idealist parents screaming now. “You will love your child, no matter what! No matter who or what they are, you will accept them whole!” What if they become a drug addict? Or a thief? Or a murderer? Those seem to be a little easier to say, okay, maybe there is a line when it comes to the unconditional thing. What if that child makes decisions about their life that you just cannot continue to live with, like drugs or other things that continue to put their (or others) lives, health or safety at extreme or unnecessary risk? That line suddenly gets a little blurry. What if it is just you don’t like how they have chosen to live their lives even though what they are doing isn’t harming anyone or anything? That line is now enveloped in in a thick fog. What if they become someone you no longer recognize as your child? Do you still love them? Is there a line? I never imagined I’d find something that made me ever question that.

And are we now talking about acceptance or unconditional love? The problem is the difference between the two. There are some things we just cannot accept, we cannot live with, but it doesn’t change the love. I also believe that it is possible to find a line that breaks even that, so there cannot be unconditional love. It is just that some may never find or experience the conditions to break theirs.

I also believe that people tend to use these ideals as a measuring stick to judge themselves and other people as being good or bad, or right or wrong. If you don’t measure up, then you failed. I’ll admit, I do to an extent, even though I’ve always believed myself to be incredibly accepting of people’s differences. I’ve just been forced to see that even in that I have a line. I know for a fact that I’ve been judged because I found a point where I could no longer accept OC’s behavior and choices. I’ve judged myself.

The biggest problem is that all of these things are impossible. They are the overly simplistic ideals, the pretty little lies we tell ourselves are realistic and achievable and pat ourselves on the back when we feel we’ve come close and point out those that we feel don’t as being less than. Since I’ve been forced to confront my own lack of ability to be or do any of these things, I’ve tried very hard not to expect it of others. I’m trying to teach my children the same by helping them to understand that others aren’t necessarily right or wrong, just different and that it is okay to not agree with them. You have to accept that you may never agree with them, maybe even quite strongly, but they just have different perceptions or breaking points than you and that none of that is a reason to judge them as being less.


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