VI. 3. All’s Well That Ends Well

 

We imagine things by selecting and mentally combining features of the already existing and familiar environment (chapter V.4.).  This is how our dream destinations (chapter VI.2.), which obviously are also products of our imagination, bear qualities that are tangible. Taking these qualities into consideration helps us get closer to where we’re headed. We might have never seen the peak we want to reach, or the river we want to raft on, or the herd we want to hunt; yet if we aim at the peak, we make sure to take the high road at a crossing; en route to the river, we listen for the sound of flowing water; to find the herd we survey the terrain for traces. Since we know that the peak is at a higher elevation than our current location, and the river consists of water that flows, and the herd leaves traces, we do our best approaching them by subjecting our search to these characteristics. From mere facts describing our imaginary targets they become circumstances determining the direction of our quest.

The way we pursue our non-material goals directed to the outer world is no different. Each one of them is a combination of abstract features which have material parameters within our reach, i.e. they exist as parts of the reality that surrounds us. The non-material goal is like a balloon floating in the air above us, with its string hanging down from it. In order to catch the balloon we have to get hold of the string; a big and heavy balloon would have many strings – the more of them we catch the better our chances to get the balloon. We live in a material world. All of our aspirations related to it have to be carried out in its medium. The abstract nature of some of them doesn’t change the way we turn them into reality. Abstract goals represent a higher level of our strivings; they organize our behavior by making it stick to commonly valid circumstances, or categories (chapter V.5.). Their large range of applicability is demonstrated in numerous life cases where they impose their influence. In each of these cases though, the category displays itself as a specific, simple, unique circumstance that we must conform with in order to get closer to the goal.

So no matter if we want to go to Neverland or the milk-shop around the corner, to excel in math or in sack racing, to gain respect or weight, we always look around for facts that are related to our goal, because they are the ones that will help us achieve it. The goal tints the facts we are surrounded by, leading us into selecting the ones that are relevant to its accession. Then, in order to be fulfilled, the goal requires that we turn them into circumstances, or, in other words, act upon them.

What if I wake up one day and my sleepy glance falls onto the calendar, where a couple of weeks ago I carefully encircled today’s date. All of a sudden I am struck by the recollection that it is my boss’s birthday. I have less than an hour to buy her a present, gift-wrap it, write a card, and finally put everything on her desk before she shows up for work! She, or rather my job, is important to me, so my participation in the office celebration becomes my goal. In order to achieve it I have to contemplate my actions based on the new circumstances. The very first ones, of course, are the birthday and the time I have left. If it were a regular day, the fifty minutes until I had to show up for work would have remained a mere fact. Yet today this awfully little time unites with my unpreparedness for the birthday in a vicious situation, which urgently demands turning other facts into circumstances. Her mention from a month ago of how cute she used to find small papier-mâché figurines also jumps up from an insignificant fact to the position of a circumstance, since this kind of present is what I decide under the shower to surprise her with. The distance between my house and the art store (about which I otherwise couldn’t care less) also becomes a circumstance, because, even though I usually bike to the office, I have to use my car in order to make it on time. Already nervous because I get scalded in the shower while figuring out the figurine I should buy, I swoop down into my garage, whose door usually gets stuck halfway up. Under normal circumstances this would be a minor one, which usually takes me thirty seconds to overcome. Yet today I get entangled in the process because I’m hurried and gawky, which turns the crookedness of the garage door into another quite important circumstance, because I almost cut my finger, which makes me waste more precious time before taking the car out and speeding up toward the store, which, for its part, causes me to drive erratically and almost crash into a bus. From the bottom of my heart I thank God when I manage to slip out of the office of my boss seconds after I place the figurine of an old Mexican farmer with a big sombrero on her desk, and seconds before she shows up at the other end of the hallway. “All’s well that ends well”, I murmur to myself happily as I dart to hide around the corner. Having barely finished the sentence, I inadvertently kick an impressive and heavy gift-wrapped package some other colleague has placed next to the door. With my pride hurting even more than my foot I stump out of my boss’s blank sight as quickly as I can.

The goal related to my boss’s birthday has determined the flow of my action during the morning by making me conform with certain facts from my surroundings and adopt them as circumstances in my perception of reality. My goal also cancelled – due to lack of time – some of my previously planned chores (such as making an early call to my mom who had left me an angry message about how irresponsible I had been), transforming them into mere aspirations. Overall, it set the standard of what was important to me within this time period, and what options I should choose to act upon in order to achieve it. This defines action as a willful process of selecting facts and turning them into circumstances as parts of one’s dynamically changing general perception of reality, in the name of reaching a certain goal.

Every goal causes changes in our perception of reality by stirring new circumstances for us. We might formulate our goals as briefly as we want, but they are always conglomerates of requirements, which go hand in hand with – and depend on – each other. In the course of action these requirements translate themselves (and often branch out) into numerous concrete circumstances. The more important our goal is, the more requirements it contains, hence the more circumstances it puts on our way. Those requirements become goals themselves, which are constituted by other requirements, and so on, until we reach the level of the simplest physical actions which contribute to the simplest requirements (sub-goals). On the other end stands the goal of our dreams, that all of the smaller goals are part of, even though they often contradict each other. It is because we constantly and restlessly look for new, more efficient avenues of approach toward it. In this search for the shortest pass we might even change the super-goal itself, yet in its essence it will always boil down to achieving a harmonious, balanced relationship between our self-perception and our perception of the environment.

© 2010 Peter Budevski

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