Conversely, the Ideal Me lists have always been predictable as well. Every student I have ever had shifts their Real Me list to the Ideal Me one of greatness. “Loves cats” becomes “Owns ten cats,” and “Mean to my little brother” becomes “Nice to my little brother,” and “Hates school” becomes “Tolerates school” or sometimes even “Likes school,” and “Selfish” becomes “Shows empathy” and “Smokes weed daily” always turns into “Doesn’t smoke weed.”
After the kids are finished, I explain that some people believe that one of the keys to happiness is to strive to become the Ideal Me. I tell them that their lists will change and evolve over time but that the key is to always be aware of both lists. Clarity of thought is important (When I was eight I asked my father what he wanted me to be when I grew up, thinking he’d say astronaut or lawyer or baseball player but he responded with, “As long as you have clarity of thought, it doesn’t matter what you become.” It stuck with me.) and critical thinking isn’t bad either. The lesson is fairly well-received by my students and most put forth solid effort and genuine thought. Often the lesson serves as an introduction to the tragic hero (They’re like us, but better than us) or the transcendentalists and it generally makes for a nice, personal inroads into what’s next.
The point is that all of my students use their Ideal Me list to imagine the very best version of themselves. This is universal.
I’ve voted for President of the United States since 1988 (I voted for Michael Dukakis although I still had a voter crush on John Anderson from 1980). When I vote, I ask myself one question, “What does my Ideal America look like?” Whichever candidate’s vision shares the most with my vision gets my vote. Granted, I’ve voted for a Democrat each year but I’ve always considered the Republican candidate. In fact, I’ve seen good and honor in each man nominated by the Republican party. George Bush the First reminded me of my grandfather and a genuine nice person. Bob Dole seemed to me like his public persona was much more stern than he’d be in private. I respected him. George Bush the Second seemed like a naïve little boy but I still don’t think of him as evil or mean. I think he was manipulated by people around him. John McCain? How can you not respect a war hero like that, going through what he did as a POW? Mitt Romney seemed like a very honorable man who walked the walk. I have loads of respect for him; I just think his timing was off.
I think one common denominator runs through the Republican nominees for President. Their vision of their Ideal America was mostly based on goodness. I disagree with lots of the platform (I’m pro-choice and pro-union) but I honestly that if I asked any of them to write down a list of qualities that their Ideal America possess, most of the qualities would be good and inclusive.
Then November 8th happened. Donald Trump’s vision for an Ideal America scares the shit out of me. It is not based on goodness. It is not inclusive. It involves teaming up with Russia. It allows men to grab women by the pussy. It busts unions. It escalates a nuclear arms race for no reason. It is racist, it is strictly Christian, it is discriminatory against LGBTQ people.
I voted for Hillary Clinton but it was as much of a vote against Trump as a vote for her and voting against someone was a first for me. It was depressing. Not as depressing as the result, but still not fun.
So much has been written about Trump I don’t even need to go into it. People know. Not enough apparently, but they’ll learn soon enough.
I guess my point is twofold: First, I worry about doing my Real Me vs. Ideal Me lesson this year. Those Ideal Me lists just might see some negativity for the first time. The students have always shown themselves to be respectable and I hope America’s tumult doesn’t allow them to think that hatred is an ideal.
Secondly, I think all politicians should have to spell out what their Ideal America looks like. I know the Democratic Party is in a bit of soul-searching stage right now, so to Democratic Party leaders and followers, here’s what you need to do:
1. Describe your ideal America. Seriously. Write it down somewhere.
2. Figure out how to make it happen.