Goal setting is over-rated. The lesson comes with a price, the result of long days and nights filled with relentless bouts of figuratively beating one's head against the wall. Like tourists doggedly pursuing the right camera angle, we miss the real view in front of us.
When personal goals become the most important thing, we get government shutdown. We get the kind of standoff that could lead to default on the national debt, something contributing to the greater hurt of the world's economy. We get those who are supposed to be our leaders talking down to us: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, "We've made tremendous progress. Everyone just needs to be patient"; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, "I think it's safe to say we've made substantial progress."
Progress! By whose definition? National goals are lost when individual goals rule.
The great 20th century over-achiever, "Babe" Zaharias, an astounding athlete in golf, basketball, track and field, had an effective life plan: "Loosen your girdle and let 'er fly!" Songwriter/singer Dolly Parton puts it like this: "Find out who you are and do it on purpose." Both speak of a drive springing more from love and talent than enforced, tunnel-vision ambition.
If long-range aims stop short-range living, we tire out. It is good not to waste time but not "all" of the time. Wearable technology, things like Google's glasses sporting hidden cameras and responding to voice commands, are touted to be an "extension of ourselves." The goal is to enable us to be always in the "on" position. And not only "on," but it is considered a boon when machines interpret ourselves to ourselves: music players matching heartbeats, mood sweaters changing colors with emotions. Goals turn into gaolers as we lock ourselves up voluntarily.
A news headline in April asked a question: "Is it ever OK to compliment someone's appearance in the workplace?" It would be if sincerity trumped agenda. It would be if goals were open and honest. In a world where reference to one's looks can be a sidetrack to an affair or a substitute for qualifications, where self-respect accepts disrespect as a means to an end, and where sexism taints production, offering such observations can be risky. Above all, where goals are competitive gods, we must beware of ourselves and others. They may have become the forbidden fruit of Eden.
I speak not of giving up, far from it. Making peace with one's goals gives wisdom to reevaluate when necessary. Ability to change course often leads to corrected destination. The latest obsession among some young girls and women is to become so thin that their thighs don't touch even when their feet are together. Though endangering their lives, this weight-loss goal swallows sanity-as all goals will when not stemming from the right source.
Great people operate from vision, a higher concept than goal setting. Vision enabled President Abraham Lincoln to stand against the sentimentality and political fervor of the age, to see that freeing slaves offered the only hope of national unity, to put his own personal welfare secondary. He lined himself up with Apostle Paul's greatest teaching on the only true and ultimate goal: "That I may know Him [God]." (Philippians 3:10). It still works today.
Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side.
Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com.