In literature, we have a concept called hamartia, or tragic flaw. This occurs when something about the protagonist’s personality causes conflict and tragedy. Aristotle says it is a mistake or error in judgment in a character; as the audience, we are attracted to characters, because they possess both good and bad qualities, much like a regular person. The downfall of the character purges pity and fear from us and forces us to not want to undergo the same circumstances; it is an enforcement in morals. In Shakespeare, Hamlet’s hamartia is his indecisiveness; he cannot make up his mind about the dilemmas he confronts about his father’s murder and this causes almost everyone to die in the end of the play. Oedipus’ tragic flaw is his ignorance; he has no idea he has killed his father and married his mother, which, again, causes conflict and death in the end.
Of course, as a literary major, I am always trying to make my life connect those themes similar in stories, novels, and drama. If I were a literary character, my hamartia would be that I am an idealist.
I like to believe the best in the world. I don’t like to believe that people lie, steal, cheat. I don’t like to believe that people can be malicious and utterly selfish.
This mindset often gets me in trouble. For example, with students, I always want to believe that they aren’t lying to me about “their car running out of gas”. I always want to believe that they didn’t just plagiarize that paper. I always want to believe that they weren’t just cheating on that test. I always want to believe that “their computer blew up in the lightening storm in November last night and therefore couldn’t turn in their paper”. I often do favors for people, with the intention that they will follow through and that they will pay me back at some point, which sometimes, doesn’t ever happen.
I end up justifying people’s wrongdoings by making up excuses; “Oh, she didn’t show up to practice because she was afraid to confront me about that issue. It is ok”, “Oh, he wrote me a breakup note because he is not strong enough to face his insecurities. That is ok”, “Oh, she spent all of my money because she is motivated by rewards and not punishment; that is ok”.
Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to live as a realist: to understand that I may be a poor teacher the rest of my life, to question anything and everything a student tells me, to believe that everyone is always up to no good.
But, I am not sure I would want to give up my unrealistic perception of the world. Being an idealist allows me to think optimistically, to see the best in situations, to want to find solutions to make things work, because I believe in them.