In my subjective experience I feel a dissonance between my ideals and reality. And I see this in everyone else too, though many don’t see it in themselves. It’s easy to deceive oneself into thinking that one’s ideal is reality, thus becoming blind to reality. The most extreme examples are the monsters of human history.
The ideal consists of higher principles, always for the benefit of others. And when selflessness is too unbelievable there’s the superficial admission of selfish motivation (usually not the real motivation, though) framed as something that also benefits others (the classic win-win situation).
Reality is that I’m selfish and usually not concerned about others except when our selfishness is allied, or when I need someone to get what I want. Emotions are frequently not expressed and more often are muted; but inside my emotions are intense, irrational, and insatiable.
I want to think I’m the ideal, but then I’ll do something or say something I’m not proud of, and sometimes they’re whoppers. Some things really bring this out, like alcohol, so I really think I should quit drinking. This gap, this dissonance between what I am and what I want to be is distressing.
And what happens with this dissonance? My first reaction is to project it on to others. But blame can become targeting, and God forbid that this targeting should ever become persecution. The companion of projection is moral arrogance, contrasting myself with the target by holding myself up as an example of the ideals. We see this in politics and religion all the time. This arrogance is a means of justifying my actions to diminish the dissonance, but it only leads to more actions that fail to conform to the ideal, and the vicious cycle begins again.
So, what should I do about it? I think it takes effort to remind myself of reality, and that my ideal is not reality. Still, ideals are useful to orient myself toward what is less destructive, much like a compass won’t get me to true north but can get me started in the general direction.
I need to learn to acknowledge my emotions when they happen, and try to observe them without reacting immediately.
I have to learn to recognize projection as it’s happening to stop myself from blaming others. Or, when I see myself blaming others (especially in a general way, or when the blame is directed toward a group rather than an individual), and holding myself up as an example of the ideal, I need to remind myself that I’m full of shit.
I have to be honest with myself about what my true selfish motivations are (not the superficial selfish reasons that serve as a convenient lie), and be willing to step back if it will harm others. Or, if there really is a win-win solution then pursue that without pretending I’m doing it only for the benefit of others.