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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra
The obscuring of ideals
In the human being there are, among others, two types of behavior: the first is reactive, related to the satisfaction of organic and material needs; the second is effusive or expansive, related to being a person. The latter is proper to true freedom, a capacity that allows us to open ourselves to the world of people in order to serve them out of love, and to the world of things in order to dominate them through knowledge.
Freedom is a gift received that can and must grow. "We are all free by birth, but few know how to be free throughout a life full of peremptory needs and immediate goods. Freedom nests in the human heart, and consists in rising above the sometimes inevitable pettiness that life imposes on us" (Ricardo Yepes).
To be free is not essentially "to be free from something", in the sense of breaking ties and duties; it is "to be free for something". It is freedom to do the good that is actualized through decision, according to two ideals: the true and the good.
Ideals are prototypes of perfection referring to an exemplary person. There were times when they provided moral authority. For example, goodness, truth, service, love. But nowadays they are obscured by the predominance of individualism, moral permissiveness and relativism.
In Roman thought, authority did not consist so much in the exercise of power (potestas) as in its foundation, auctoritas: a force that serves to sustain and increase the possibilities of others, an impulse to develop capacities, reinforcement of good behavior. It is the moral authority or educational authority, which is based on the credibility of the one who exercises it. "What he could not achieve by power, he achieved by authority" (Ciceron: speech against Pison).
Credibility entails consistency. It is told that a professor wrote a handwritten annotation to a student on his exam paper. The student said: Professor, I don't understand what you have written on my exam. The professor replied: I'm telling you to write in clearer handwriting.
The psychiatrist, Antonio Anatrella, affirms that "we live in a depressive society, in the empire of the ephemeral, which only looks at the present, incapable of taking the risk of building the future. The lack of ideals means that society has no future.
Believing that we are sufficient on our own, we have renounced our origins and fabricated our own laws and values, as if there were no universal values. The 20th century has left us hanging on a pendulum, in a world without references".
Many values are being replaced by disvalues. A disvalue is the distortion of a value. For example, among the aesthetic ones are ugliness and imitation; among those of subject moral values are intolerance and hopelessness; among those of subject social values are contempt and selfishness; among those of subject religious values are sectarianism and fanaticism.
It is not strange, therefore, that some people today are an image of the sick society to which they belong. Another psychiatrist, Viktor Frank, has pointed out that the so-called self-realization "cannot be achieved when it is considered an end in itself, but only when it is taken as a side effect of one's own transcendence. The more man strives to attain it, the more it escapes him, for only to the extent that man commits himself to the fulfillment of the meaning of his life, to that same extent is he self-realized".
The darkening of ideals in today's society corresponds to the exaltation of deception, the false, the ugly, the vulgar, the erotic, the shabby, the selfish, the frivolous, the violent, etc. In some contemporary art museums an esparto rope is exhibited together with a long explanation of its aesthetic qualities. And almost nobody dares to say that it is a joke, for fear of being branded as uneducated.
The disvalues are supported by the Internet, by trash TV programs and by news programs that are the continuation of the old magazine "The Case". They also contribute to the regulations of some schools that refer only to the bad that is forbidden, without any accredited specialization to rules for doing and rewarding what is right. The same happens in some families, where lying, disrespect and disorder are punished, without stimulating and rewarding the virtues of sincerity, respect and order.
It has been proven that it is more effective and formative to foster virtues than to pursue bad behaviors. Parents should aspire to make their children fall in love with the true, the good and the beautiful, especially through their good example, good reading and good friendships.