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Something has been bothering me for a while and it's this: When I meet people for the first time, I often end up liking them for not who they are, but what I think they could be and should be. In other words, I romanticise them. I get excited at the potential, rather than the actual. One person (my girlfriend of 2.5 years) has reached this potential and gone beyond my expectations, but most of the time, these people never seem to reach their potential and as a consequence, I am left feeling bitterly disappointed. Has anyone experienced anything along these lines? If so, how do you deal with it?

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Yes. The solution is to stop doing it. This will probably come naturally with time and experience. It's good to not be pessimistic about people, but not good to form unrealistic expectations about them, or give them credit for things they haven't actually accomplished.

Perhaps the best approach is to expect people to be capable of growing, if they show evidence that they've grown in the past, but not to be so disappointed with them if they don't. It's not just to treat someone as more or less than they really are.

Is this mistake always in relation to the opposite sex, or everybody? I think in the first case that's a quite common mistake, especially for the young. As on Objectivist looking for romantic partners, when self-developed partners seem rare, it's natural to want to "develop" one who shows aptitude. In my experiences, it's a mistake to push too hard or expect too much. A fire ready to burn needs only one match, while some wet weeds can resist gasoline and blowtorches. A copy of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead and a bit of time should be enough.

Keep your standards high, work on your own life, treat people as they deserve while offering them the benefit of your own wisdom when they are receptive. With time, you'll meet many fine people, and many wretched ones.

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Perhaps the best approach is to expect people to be capable of growing, if they show evidence that they've grown in the past, but not to be so disappointed with them if they don't.  It's not just to treat someone as more or less than they really are.

This is an excellent idea.

In regards to your question, this mistake is in relation to everybody. I am happy with my life and where I am going. I'm extremely happy with the most important person in my life - my girlfriend. And I have a lot of friends from whom I can derive value from in certain contexts. For example, I have a friend called Elle who is assertive, and for the most part, self-confident. But she can fall into bouts of insecurity from time to time and she's not particularly interested in intellectual ideas. I have a friend called Gerard who is bright and intelligent, but is staunchly socialist. Because of previous experiences, I don't want to push these people too hard and lose them altogether. So I suppose sometimes I feel a little lonely because I do not meet new people that I can admire on all levels. You know, people who are totally committed to integrity, consistency and non-contradictory premises.

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Has anyone experienced anything along these lines? If so, how do you deal with it?

I think I can relate. I find that I have a tendency to misjudge people in both directions. I have a tendency to "snap-judge"; to judge people as "all good" or "all bad" based on what are sometimes factors out of their control, or on an exaggerated significance that I've ascribed to something they say or do.

I've found that if I can objectively observe people and try to assess their character based more on essentials, I can reach much better judgments, and it doesn' t take that much longer. I work on improving my self-esteem, and on understanding what's essential in a person's character.

I think the cause of this tendency to "snap-judge" (which is waning, I'm happy to note) is partially a result of low self-esteem, and a consequent low tolerance for being unsure of people's character and holding them in an unjudged state. Another big part is simple lack of experience, having been raised with the standard advice to "judge not, lest you be judged".

Judge, and be prepared to be judged. Other people's judgments about you, once you untagle them from being only partly rational and not honestly expressed, can be valuable information that might otherwise be unobtainable. It's similarly useful for others to know your judgments of them, even if they seldom thank you and often despise you for telling them.

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Something has been bothering me for a while and it's this: When I meet people for the first time, I often end up liking them for not who they are, but what I think they could be and should be.

You are describing the most common occupational hazard of rational people -- benevolent projections.

The fact is we can't read other people's minds so, when we are trying to understand other people, we fill in the blanks with what we know about people based on the person whose mind we CAN read -- our own. We tend to assume, until shown otherwise, that people are pretty much like we are and do things for the same reasons we do.

As a result, dishonest people assume other people are liars too, and don't trust anybody. Honest, virtuous people, on the other hand, tend to trust too much. Observe that Ayn Rand, with regard to many important people on her life, assumed they were more honest and virtuous than, in fact, they really were. It's an easy trap for a good person to fall into.

After one particularly shocking disappointment in my personal life, I identified my own benevolent projections and the assumptions I made about the person -- and shouldn't have. Since then I have been aware of the issue and found a better way of dealing with it.

I had always operated on the principle of "innocent until proved guilty" but I realized I was also operating on the principle of "virtuous until proved otherwise." Since people have free will, that is an arbitrary assumption. Virtue isn't just the absence of vice. It is an accomplishment.

Now I hope for the best, but I don't assume someone else is virtuous until I have good evidence for it.

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I've had similar problems with friends and family. My father, whom I always considered the most rational man in my family, and who was always a strong proponent of science and against religion has recently started praying and talking about God. My mother can be a non-absolute sometimes...and its frustrating when I can't get a straight answer from her (even a simple yes or no). My younger brother is very smart (IQ 130) and capable of doing great in school but would rather spend his time going out with friends and girls and ends up with low C's in school. It can be very frustrating ...because these are people I love very much and yet I don't believe in unconditional love (....i have an estranged older brother for this very reason...i'm the only who refuses to speak to him...).

My mother says I"m too harsh....that I expect too much out of people. I don't do that as much as I used to...I'm trying very hard to just see people for what they are. Whether I accept them for friends is another thing. I would say I have only 2 "true" friends in my life ....neither is Objectivist but I'm always recommending they read Atlas Shrugged. One reason I liked Dagny's character so much was cause she committed this same mistake. My favorite quote (before I discovered Ayn Rand) used to be "I don't expect any more out of people than I expect out of myself...and I expect a lot out of myself."

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I like that quote, Dagny. And Betsy, well put - once again.

Another small anecdote from me: I have a friend called James, who is quite intelligent and articulate. He also takes politics seriously but considers himself to be left-wing. Anyway, over the last couple of years, we've had a lot of debates, etc. but it got frustrating for me, because his views were so incredibly distorted by marxist ideas. For example, he'd say that he was anti-free market capitalism, and when I asked him to explain what free-market capitalism was, he couldn't do it. And when he did do it, the definition was completely wrong. So I basically just told him that debating in this way was pointless, and recommended that he read Atlas Shrugged and THEN debate with me, because that would put us on some sort of common platform. That was four months ago.

For three months or so, he refused to read the copy of AS that I gave him. When I asked him why he hadn't started to read it, he eventually conceded that he was afraid to read it because he "did not want to end up becoming a capitalist". That statement disgusted me in an indescribable way.

However, last week, he started to read it. I am optimistic that he will be able to see the logic behind it all and begin to intergrate the ideas of Objectivism into his life. However, I am also aware that it is possible that he will, after seeing the truth, simply decide to ignore it. If that happens, it will basically be the end of our friendship.

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It has been hard getting people to read Ayn Rand. A lot of people don't like to read-period....so I've started recommending the tapes. Sometimes I think people are afraid of change ... both of my good friends...one is catholic and the other christian....were both very surprised by my becoming atheist after reading Atlas Shrugged. I was never religious...but we alway had great discussions about God and Science. Both are very smart, hard working, moral individuals and I accept them for those reasons.

I don't try to push them too much because there is a certain level where you have to let them find it for themselves. I wouldn't like it if they asked me to go to church every Sunday, for example. But I use our talks to communicate my ideals and they do respect my ideas and thoughts. So far the only one I've managed to convince is my husband. He went through Atlas Shrugged in a few days and afterwards also became atheist. He is not calling himself an Objectivist but for the most part holds Objectivist ideals.

p.s. it would be great to have Objectivist friends ....but for now I'm glad this forum is here as it helps to talk to other like-minded individuals.

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I've been trying to get my roommate read The Fountainhead for over a year. He's STILL on chapter 1. He's a law student and very enthusiastic about becoming a judge. We often talk about the laws that are currently passed in our parliament and we agree that they are silly, but never that they are immoral. He really thinks that these laws are "necessary evils," or that they should only be passed in countries which are more developed than ours. (ex. there was this law passed which forbids the stores - larger than 40 square meters - to work on sundays)

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It's a good idea to suggest to people that they read Atlas Shrugged, (or The Fountainhead, etc.) I've done the same throughout my life, and I've probably spurred 10 or 12 people to read. But if these people already know you and your values and are reticent to read the books, then I would guess that they have already shut off certain intellectual posibilities for themselves. Of the ten people I may have convinced to read Atlas, none became serious students of Objectivism. My wife, who is very fond of Ayn Rand's philosophy, but hasn't studied it in depth beyond the major novels and going to a couple of Summer conferences. Of the others perhaps a few for a few years said nice things about Ayn Rand. The rest, they either disliked or didn't really get much out of it (and I generally assume that if someone read Atlas and said little about it to me, then they probably disliked the novel and/or philosophy but didn't want to argue about it with me.) I think that someone truly predisposed to be very impressed by Objectivism will start themselves down that path with just the slightest encouragement. Anyone you feel you have to push hard on, I suspect you'll be disappointed with the results.

This is just how things go for most young fans of Objectivism (I was one 15 years ago). You start off alone, and you try to recruit some friends to it, a few seem to like it, but in time veer away. Perhaps you'll meet some more serious students of Objectivism in college (and perhaps not). Focus on practicing Objectivism in your own life, building your own career and success in life, and then you'll be able to afford to go to Summer Objectivist conferences and meet some really serious students of Objectivism.

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