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Dear Doctor:

There are a lot of loose ends in my mind. Some are offenses against me - humiliations, rejections, insults, and being cheated. How do I get even when the offenders are not in the picture anymore (dead, moved away)? Some of the loose ends are my offenses toward others. I would like to apologize, but these others are not around anymore, either.

Dear Bothered:

It is obvious that it is impossible to resolve every bad feeling, that is, always to get even. All of us are regularly cheated. Many of us are regularly insulted. In addition, there are the lingering bad feelings of child abuse, physical assaults, failures, and rejections.

When an eruption of bad feelings occurs in the middle of the night, the eruption must be calmed down. If the cause is not apparent, you can mention likely candidates: "excluded, excluded, . . . intruded upon, intruded upon, . . . frustrated, frustrated, . . . assaulted, assaulted, . . . suffocated, suffocated, . . . pain, pain, . . . disgust, disgust, . . . overpowered, overpowered, . . .vulnerable, vulnerable, . . ." Repeating statements such as these in the mind, the person begins to calm down.

Some frustration derives from our culture, which is pervaded by the idea that people should always be better and should continuously strive to improve themselves. The setting up of ideals - the idealistic conception of life - means that those of us who are imperfect (all of us) are lacking. We can never be self-satisfied, because ahead of us there is always the "more" and the "better."

People who live in tribal societies are not hampered by this comparison with an ideal and its consequent striving. Tribal life is self-contained and continuous from generation to generation. There is not the questioning of self and the driving ambition that we have. Consequently, people in those societies suffer less than we do from the shame of not measuring up and the guilt of disappointing themselves and others.

The difference is between idealism and realism. The idealist sees life not as it is but as it should be. He or she is very judgmental - people should always do better and be better. The realist, on the other hand, is more flexible. He or she looks to self-satisfaction and makes judgments pragmatically. If it works, I'll do it, he or she thinks. Relationships with other people are developed from instincts and feelings. Realists have feelings about people and rely upon the feelings.

Idealism plays into the hand of the self-shaming and self-blaming side of a person. Self-shaming and self-blaming depend upon "should," which is the essence of idealism. Instead of looking for more and more reality and a larger and larger self, the idealist continually makes judgments, at the expense of being open to new experiences. The idealist, then, restricts, whereas the realist expands.

Idealism intrudes into some people's lives in a thousand ways. For example, take the ideal that grown men shouldn't cry. Believing in this ideal, some men choke back emotion, trying not to show it. At the funeral home where his mother lay in her casket, a friend of mine knelt before her and broke into heaving sobs. Everyone seemed embarrassed, and, later, when I told someone about it, I got a disapproving look, as if his display of emotion was shameful.

In sexual relations, too, idealism intrudes. Some men, particularly, try to live up to an ideal standard of performance instead of pleasing themselves by instinct. Instead of learning more about their sexuality, they restrict themselves to an ideal.

Because the miseries that follow from being an outsider are so extreme, most people hold to the values that assure their remaining insiders. For the most part, what people believe in is what they were born into. For most of us, if we had been born Japanese we, too, would have supported the bombing of Pearl Harbor. If we had been born Russian, we, too, would have supported the Communist leadership. Similarly, we hold to the religious beliefs and values we were brought up in, and we protect and defend what our parents taught us. It is obvious that these beliefs and values - political, religious, and familial - are not rationally chosen, as if we freely chose them from among all the competing beliefs and values. Rather, we hold to them because they assure our membership in country, church, and home. Realists recognize this situation.

Realists also recognize that we are often at the mercy of our emotions. Extreme examples of victimization by one's own emotions are rapists, who in prison are willing to submit to drugs to reduce their drive to rape. Examples of more commonplace cases are troubling thoughts of fear, shame, hostility, and guiltiness, which come unwelcome into a person's mind and also affect behavior. The law assumes that we should always behave rationally and punishes us for irrational behavior. In reality, we all behave irrationally much of the time. Reason tells us to be self-confident and equable, but, instead, we are often carried along by currents of fear, shame, hostility, guiltiness, envy, greed, excessive appetite, anger, hatred, resentment, embarrassment, and loneliness. It is genetic inheritance, tradition, education, upbringing, custom, and politics that determine our behavior as much as or even more than rational choice.

Beliefs and values greatly influence our way of conducting our lives. Minute by minute we behave as we have been taught to behave. Furthermore, we behave in ways provided to us by our genetic inheritance. Researchers have learned from studies of identical twins separated at birth how similar the twins are. Personality, career, and marriage choices are more innate than anyone had ever realized. There is less rationality and more irrationality than we ever knew.

Realism includes an appreciation of the irrationality in one's own life. One sees oneself as in Nature/life, not apart from it. I made a mistake, and it is OK - mistakes are inherent in the processes of life. I was stupid not to see trouble around the corner, and it is OK - lack of foresight is inherent in the processes of life. I am often naive, humorless, ignorant, inept, and stupid, and it is OK - these qualities are inherent in the processes of life. It is in the nature of human life to behave irrationally.

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