I think I am an idealist. By that, I mean that I have certain ideas about how the world should work, about what a “perfect” world would be like, and I sometimes judge events in real life based on the fact that they fail to meet my ideals. I do not think being an idealist is a bad thing, in fact I think it is a positive thing. I believe the only way that we can move towards real change is for some of us at least to be idealists. As the two following quotes express, it is not possible to come up with new systems for society if you are stuck thinking in terms of the current ones:
Some men see things as they are and ask, “Why?” I dream things that never were, and ask “Why not?”
– George Bernard Shaw
You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.
However, the danger of being an idealist is that I will lose touch with or live in constant denial of reality. Recently I have been thinking about this and struggling with a few questions:
- How do I live believing in my ideals but also accepting the fact that the world is not perfect, and that most likely it will never live up to my ideals, let alone in my lifetime?
- What can I do in my life that I feel is taking positive steps towards creating a world that lives up to my ideals, while not becoming disillusioned or demotivated by the fact that most likely the overall impact I have will be small?
As I start to think about what my ideals actually are, I encounter another problem/question. First of all, what are some of these ideals?
- A world in which all conflicts are resolved non-violently.
- A world in which violence is seen as outside the norm.
- A world in which every human being has access to enough food and clean water, to shelter, and to health care.
- A world in which children are raised non-authoritatively and non-violently.
- A world in which compassion, caring, and cooperation are more highly valued than aggression, self-interest, and competition.
- A world in which education allows children to reach their potential and to learn to think critically.
I’m sure there are more aspects to my ideal world, but those are the main ones I can think of right now. Now, I certainly do not imagine that there would be no conflict in this world; I think conflict is a natural part of people trying to live together, but the question is how is that conflict resolved? My answer is, of course, non-violently. However, the question I sometimes struggle is the following:
How do I accept that someone may think just as deeply as I do about the world and the way the world should work, but may come to different conclusions from me? What if someone has really reached a conclusion that violence is a viable tool for resolving conflicts?
Another way of saying this is: I certainly do not want everyone in my ideal world to think exactly the same about everything. That would be incredibly boring, and furthermore, completely impossible. So how do I accept that, since not everyone will think the same, some people may have beliefs or opinions that are in fact in conflict with my ideals themselves?
The thing is, I believe so strongly in my ideals that I do not think the above is possible. I do not think that people who are raised non-authoritatively, who live in an atmosphere of caring and compassion, and who are allowed to reach their full potential will believe that society should be based on something that is in conflict with those values. However, this takes me in a circle because I then again wonder, so I don’t want (or think it is possible in my ideal world) for people to believe in something other than my ideals, but I do accept that there will be conflicts? So what kind of conflicts am I imagining?
If I am not careful, I can start taking myself in circles that cycle between feeling positive and hopeful about my ideals and feeling utterly depressed because there is no way that reality will ever meet those ideals.
If you have thought about these sorts of questions before (or even if you haven’t) and you have any insights, I would love to hear your thoughts.