The Examined Desire


Her face launched a thousand ships…

The Iliad is many things. It is central to Western Literature and its themes echo throughout history. The characters are so ingrained in humanity, we named a body part after one of them.

One theme I’d like to write about today is Desire. There are many examples of desire in the story. In English class, we classified these as “motivations.” All the great fiction characters (and real people) had one or more. It was Paris’ and Helen’s erotic desires and recklessness that sparked the war when they fled to Troy.  Passion and desire are an indispensable part of the human fabric. Unrestrained passion will foster madness; directed passion will produce beauty.

James Madison, writing under the pseudonym Publius, writes in Federalist 49:

“But it is reason, alone, of the public that ought to control and regulate the government. The passions ought to be controlled and regulated by the government.”

All goals derive from desire. Without an initial desire, we do not create the goal. Without a sustained desire, we are less likely to achieve the goal. Every decision, small or large, depends on desire. The decision hinges on either the desire to want or “unwant” an outcome.

Why do you stop at a red light? It’s not from a passionate love for the law or an affection for the color red. It’s the desire to not want a traffic ticket or not get into a car accident. If your wife is pregnant in the back seat and going into labor, your desires change. You are more likely to consider the risk-to-benefit ratio of running the red. Your desire to get her to the hospital outweighs a traffic ticket. In the event you get pulled over, the traffic officer may provide a police escort to the hospital. Even his job of enforcing traffic laws become secondary to a new desire.

Desire can direct what you study, your romantic interests and your career path. Unchecked, each of these can lead to dissatisfaction, heartbreak or worse. This is ironic since the object of a goal is to bring about the opposite. The objectives of a goal are to deliver satisfaction, happiness, and success. What good is a goal that doesn’t?

The goal is what happens after accomplishment.

Dissatisfaction –> Goal –> Satisfaction

Satisfaction is the “undercover” goal in this case. Some will paint satisfaction with negative colors. There’s nothing wrong with satisfaction. Paul says in Philippians, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”Is there always a need for more and more? With this approach, you will overreach and create misery instead of beauty. Consider Michelangelo. It’s estimated 3/5 of his works remained unfinished. He would abandon his project at the slightest error (sound familiar?). If he did this 100% of the time, we wouldn’t have The Moses, The Pietà, David or the Sistine Chapel. Sometimes you need to know when to stop and allow the masterpiece to be.

Let’s talk fitness.

Dissatisfaction with your current physique can lead to the goal “I want to get ripped.” We must examine the desire, not to extinguish, but to direct and amplify it.

Why do you want to get ripped? How does it feel to be un-ripped? How is your confidence and self-esteem?  How is your attitude?  What is your day-to-day comfort inside your own skin?

Many people don’t want to ask themselves, much less answer these questions. People want to keep their passions unhinged and unrestrained. The higher the passion, the less they will want to restrain it.

Now ask yourself, what is waiting for you on the other side of the goal? Rather, what sort of satisfaction will present itself after accomplishment?

What will “getting ripped”do to your confidence and self-esteem?  How will your attitude change?  What’s your day-to-day comfort now?

Anchor the initial “goal” to post-goal results that are real. These potential results will provide the motivation necessary to persevere. As mentioned in earlier articles, goal achievement won’t be easy. Without a vision of what is waiting for you on the other side of the goal, your efforts will fall flat. Without knowing why you want that which you want, your efforts will fall flat.

Then what? Is it ok to create a “new goal?” Are you still dissatisfied? When will you reach satisfaction? Can you ever? Of course, we will want to keep progressing onwards and upwards. Before you hasten and create a new goal immediately after achieving another; stop. Breathe. You did it. Enjoy it, even if for a moment.  When you achieve a goal for the right reasons, in the right way, the paradigm changes. You develop Prudence; a superpower. Each goal that follows is wiser. It’s not reckless. It’s free from the bonds of aggressive passions. You take more joy in the process and become less attached to the outcome. It’s not a case of “never satisfied,” it’s “satisfied and improving.”

Do not stay trapped with ungoverned desire and an absence of reason. Allow for the best of you to emerge, like David from the block of marble.