Archive for Education

Trump Has Faults…and You Don’t?

By | May 25, 2017 | 0 Comments

We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.
– Abraham Lincoln

We are taught to strive to be the best we can. This frame of mind stimulates us to try harder. But the operative phrase is we can. Carried to the extreme, admiration for the best squelches ambition. Very few can be the best at anything. For the rest of us, being pretty good is difficult enough. If we overemphasize being the best, many people – especially young people – will simply give up.

This principle applies to many areas of life.

Personal best.

It’s not easy being a wife, if your husband compares you not to real women he has a chance to attract, but to plastic-surgery enhanced, photoshopped Miss November. It’s not easy being a kid, if your parents compare you not to your classmates, but to ideal kids that get straight A’s while being varsity athletes and volunteering in homeless shelters – in their non-existent spare time. It’s not easy being a husband, if your wife compares you not to your peers, but to flashy billionaires or to stars on tabloid covers.

Educational best.

It’s one thing to motivate young people to study hard and do well in school. It’s quite another to demand perfection. Parents apply to nursery schools when their child is still in the womb. Then comes pre-school and elementary school – the “best,” of course – so the child can get into the “best” high school, the “best” college, and often the “best” graduate school.

Why? So young people can be well educated? So they can gain wisdom? Are you joking? So they can make more money, of course – and pay off huge student loans, which were needed for the “best” schools. (Talk about circular reasoning!) Might students be happier in a community college? Might they be more productive in a computer or other technical school? Might they benefit from time off to travel, work, or perform public service? No matter – only the “best” will do. The young person is not seen as an individual, but merely as an extension of the parents, destined to give them prestige.

All this might be justified to motivate a brilliant student. But what about ordinary students? The subtext is that if you haven’t graduated from the “best” schools with the highest honors, you are a failure. As a result, many kids are condemned to think of themselves, to a greater or lesser degree, as failures ‒ and give up.

Professional best.

In business or professional life, why should we try to better ourselves, if we can never hope to make as much money as Jeff Bezos? We might as well continue in our dead-end jobs. Why should we do research and advance human knowledge, if we can never expect to win a Nobel Prize? We might as well quit and go on food stamps. Why should I continue writing for my website, if I can never win a Pulitzer Prize like a “real” columnist?

Ambition is a fine thing, but like anything else, it can be carried to the point of being self-defeating. Setting goals that are too low, or having no goals at all, leads to lack of accomplishment. But setting goals that are impossibly high can have equally destructive effects. Goals can challenge the individual, but they must be realistic.

Political best.

Donald Trump has many faults. Still, we must admit that whether a characteristic is a fault or a virtue depends on the situation ‒ and on our point of view. For example, Trump couldn’t care less what the New York Times or the rest of the liberal media say about him. If we disagree with what President Trump is doing, this is a major fault. But if we agree, it is a yuuuge virtue.

It is becoming painfully obvious that America is in a civil war ‒ largely nonviolent thus far, but who can see the future? Comparisons with our real Civil War are unavoidable. But who were the generals? Recall General Sherman’s candid remark: “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.” Yes, the Union was led by imperfect generals ‒ the hard-drinking Grant, the unstable Sherman, and the reckless Custer. But the Union was victorious, and slavery was ended.

Lincoln went through a number of unsuccessful generals before he settled on Grant. Lincoln began with McClellan, whose uniforms were impeccable and who was a stickler for drill. He trained his troops so carefully that he was reluctant to use them. Lincoln ended with Grant, whose uniforms were rumpled but who was willing to fight.

Lincoln spent time searching for the perfect general. Not finding one, he chose an effective general. Perhaps there is a lesson here. Yes, Trump has many imperfections. But he beat all 16 other Republican hopefuls. And though we can’t be sure, it seems likely that he was the only one who could beat Hillary Clinton. In any case, he did beat her.

It is said that when Lincoln appointed Grant general-in-chief, some objected that Grant drank too much. Lincoln, recalling Grant’s victories, retorted that if he knew what brand of whiskey Grant drank, he would send a barrel of it to all his generals.

Voltaire had it right: The best is the enemy of the good. Even if the best were available to us, we wouldn’t deserve it, or perhaps even recognize it. In the real world, we must choose between imperfect alternatives. The ideal is something we keep in mind as a distant landmark toward which to strive. The ideal is not something we expect to reach in this life, and certainly not something we insist that others achieve in order to deserve our support.

Only ideal husbands deserve ideal wives, and only ideal wives deserve ideal husbands. Only ideal parents deserve ideal children. Only ideal bosses deserve ideal employees. Only ideal citizens deserve ideal leaders. The rest of us must choose between less-than-ideal alternatives that exist in reality, not merely in our imaginations.

Even the finest horse can’t compare with a unicorn.

Author’s Note:

My comments on President Trump are not addressed to “progressives,” who would never have a positive word to say about him. I can see the New York Times headline: Trump Cures Cancer ‒ When Did Putin Know? Nor am I addressing never-Trump Republicans, who hate him even more. Recall that pundit Charles Krauthammer compared firing FBI Director Comey to an “axe murder.” As a psychiatrist, Krauthammer should be aware of paranoid delusional states.

Instead, I am appealing to conservative Democrats and Republicans who want to stop America’s decline. Our house is on fire. The fire department arrives. A ladder is put up to our window. A firefighter climbs up and offers his hand. He isn’t young or handsome. He is unshaven and covered with soot. He is overweight. He doesn’t satisfy our illusion of a firefighter. But he is here, now, when we really need him. Will we take his hand? Or will we remain in the burning building and await a rescuer who fulfills our perfectionistic fantasies, but who may never arrive?

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