Ideals and Family

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Many people complain about our focus on the nuclear family and different gender roles, because so many Latter-day Saints find themselves in situations where that ideal seems unreachable. Single parents, death of loved ones, same-sex attraction, divorce, never finding someone to marry, loss of a job, health problems, financial problems, etc. etc.

I found this quote today by Carl Schurz (in a talk by Spencer W. Kimball) that gives an interesting take on the issue: ‎”Ideals are like stars: you will not succeed in touching them with your hands, but like the seafaring man on the ocean desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them, you reach your destiny.”

I like this quote because it speaks the virtues of idealism—idealism is not the presumption that all pragmatic and practical constraints should be ignored, or even that we ourselves will be able to tangible reach the ideals we set for ourselves, but that the ideal should nonetheless always and ever be the template for which we strive. In other words, we should have ideals—and hold them as ideals—even though many, if not even most, of us are unable to personally attain it.

Food for thought.


  1. I completely agree that we need to maintain and hold ideals which correspond to eternal truth regardless of personal limitations or circumstances. I love the quote!

    Rather than focusing on whether or not we should continue to teach ideals, I would ask: How do we continue to hold up the ideal without unintentionally discouraging those who fall short? I know Elder Oaks spoke about that in a CES Fireside in 200(5?), but I think his message was forgotten in light of his “hanging-out” comments. Elder Anderson also spoke in his 2011 conference talk of those who cannot reach the ideal through no fault of their own.

    Do you think it’s fair to say that some people genuinely believe that failure to attain the ideal is indicative of personal unworthiness? Do members give up, truly believing they simply are not Celestial material? If yes, where does this idea come from? What can we do to offer encouragement?

    Elder Hafen endorsed the popular psychological construct of the real self vs. the ideal self with a modification. Psychologists observed that when the perceived distance between the ideal and the real was too great, people either abandoned the pursuit of the ideal or lost tough with reality. When the perceived distance was small, individuals felt little motivation to change, grow, or develop. There was an optimal tension between the ideal and the real which motivated growth, adaptation, improvement. Elder Hafen explained that in the Gospel of Jesus Christ the ideal must be perfection and that the distance between that ideal and our present reality is infinite. We don’t have the luxury of abandoning the ideal (although I think Warner’s work on self-deception explains how we often deny the real.)

    The answer isn’t in simply changing the real to match the ideal. We don’t have the power to redeem our own fallen natures. I think the principle of repentance is less connected with the idea of willing ourselves to become ideal, and more to do with coming to a full awareness our inability to bridge the gap. The Christ-like attribute of Hope which enables us to deal with the distance between where we are and where we want to be.

    Can we as members do more to offer Hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ to those who fail (for whatever reason) to reach the ideal?

  2. These remarks by Elder Holland in 2008 are very relevant to the topic at hand. I’m teaching about the sacred role of motherhood in a class I’m teaching tomorrow in church and will be referencing the brouhaha from 2007 when Julie Beck’s “Mothers Who Know” general conference address generated a lot of backlash from the feminist crowd who bristled at her suggestions of what the “ideal” kind of mother does. I’ll be using Elder Holland’s words (given just four months after Sister Beck’s talk) to explain why the ideal receives (and should receive) so much attention.

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