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Calm • Serenity

Why Illusions Are Necessary to Achieve Anything

We tend to imagine that good and purposeful people must always have an appetite to face the truth. 

But what if, in order to get anything done, we in fact needed to harbour a series of powerful illusions about pretty much everything? What if the price of being active was a need to develop a severe blindness as to certain awful facts about being here? What if we had to lie to ourselves to have any chance of leading the vigorous lives we admire?

Joseph Crawhall, Landscape With Cattle, 1890

Here might be some of the blind spots necessary to our flourishing:

— We have to take today seriously – even though we know that it will all look like incomprehensible futile mulch within a hundred years.

— We have to care manically about what ‘others’ think – though they hardly give us a thought, let alone a fair one.

— We have to imagine that we could (one day) be loved and understood – though few things are, in fact, ever more in doubt.

— We have to melt at the cuteness of small children – though we know how most of them will turn out and that the world we’re teaching them about doesn’t really exist.

— We have to look forward to the next few years with excitement – though almost every new day is a scratchy six or below.

— We have to believe that we’re collectively making progress – though every invention unleashes a necessary set of appalling unintended consequences.

— We have to care about humanity – though most of its members are insufferable from close up.

— We have to stay on our side – though we know, in our hearts, how beastly and strange we really are.

— We have to look forward to the future – though if we had a chance to learn what fate had in store, we almost certainly would not want to know.

— We have to keep being excited about buying things – though we know how seldom any of them make a difference.

— We have to keep going travelling – though being somewhere else is always better in memory or anticipation.

— We have to keep seeing our so-called friends – though we would be crushed by hearing a fraction of what really goes through their minds.

— We have to believe in a comfortable, wise old age – though it will mostly be agony, aches and catheters.

— We have to not properly notice how beautiful, interesting and opportunity-filled life is – in case we were to go mad from excitement and regret.

In short, let’s not fool ourselves that we really want to know the complete truth. We require only so much of it as is compatible with making it out of bed. Yet our well-crafted illusions aren’t just a folly; they are a basis of, and precondition for, existing; we must lie to live.

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