Disillusionment: a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be.
So is it a good thing or a bad thing? I think it’s healthy but no more fun than a shot in the buttocks for a ten year old. Children seem to enjoy their illusions: Santa brings them presents at Christmas, a Bunny brings candy at Easter, a Fairy exchanges money for baby teeth (a little creepy when said that way), a huge ape with big feet lives in the woods, et cetera.
Part of maturing is releasing these fanciful myths in favor of reality, but it seems to me that after releasing childhood illusions, at some point in early adulthood we latch on to our views and put up a hard fight when others suggest that our perspective is skewed by illusion. I think it’s fair to call this resistance pride in some cases and empirical knowledge in others. But I don’t know which is which in most situations.
Common illusions that have been shattered in particularly hurtful ways to the general public lately are:
- Priests are less sinful than the rest of us. They are most certainly not. I think that has been established. The Catholic church has gone, and is going, through a long tunnel of disillusionment on this point. Odd how although the Christian Bible makes it clear that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” we are still harshly disappointed when the “special” ones do what most do. By that, I mean that they sinned and then hid the sin and had their friends and colleagues help in the cover up. Isn’t that common? Isn’t that the way of mankind? I think the hurt (for the public, anyway) is not so much in what they did, but in the fact that the illusion was burst right in front of us. I guess that’s what we get when we allow the illusion in the first place?
- All-American sports stars are heroes to be admired. I’m honestly not sure how we arrived here in the first place, but what I see are people who are highly disciplined because of the motivation of exorbitant compensation. I personally don’t know why we would expect them to be any more noble or patriotic than anyone else, but when one of them abuses their spouse, is cruel to their dogs, or chooses to protest injustice during the Anthem as opposed to any other time they could, we become angry and . . . disillusioned. Disillusionment hurts, and sometimes I think it hurts because we are embarrassed that we allowed ourselves to be sucked into the illusion in the beginning.
- Political leaders are dignified professionals all day every day. Again, no more so than most. Up until Trump’s campaign, I never thought I would hear a presidential candidate speak of how or where he would grab a woman. On the other hand, up until Clinton’s presidency I wouldn’t have imagined America hearing of the graphic details of an affair with an intern. At the same time, I’m sure many were shocked at the lack of decorum when they found out about Kennedy and Ms. Monroe. I suspect that people who were close enough to know the details of the goings on in the White House have been disillusioned by the same for generations, but now we have 24 hour news and Twitter to speed up the process and take it to the masses.
I’ve learned to take these types of high profile, public disillusionments in stride, because I hardly ever put people on pedestals anymore. Some call it “jaded;” I call it freedom from illusions.
But personal illusions are more difficult.
In legal practice, I’ve seen disillusionment with marriage lead to divorce. The divorce is especially sad when, as a third party, you can see that the break up is not caused by cheating or bad behavior so much as unmet expectations that weren’t realistic in the first place. They were illusions that were allowed to live until shattered, instead of corrected early on through communication.
In other, platonic, relationships, I’ve watched people suffer disillusionment when they find that a friend doesn’t place them at the same level of priority that they place the friend. It would be handy if we all had a universally accepted standard scale of importance, so that at some agreed upon stage of a relationship, we could sit down and say “You are a 9 on my scale,” to which the other might ideally respond “You’re a 9 for me too.” In reality, I think one would say “you’re a 9” and the other would be honest enough to say “you’re just a 2 to me,” at which point the one who just discovered his low status would know not to invest himself in this relationship. That would help in marriages too.
I guess my point is that I don’t see much value in illusions. I would rather be disillusioned gently today than violently or by surprise a year into an investment of time and emotion.
So, disillusion me, please. Let’s get this over with.