The World As One
Apparently, I’m an “idealist”. As if that was some kind of bad thing.
“Oh, idealists. Pshaw! Here, we have to deal in realities.”
Yes. I am an idealist. In that I see myself as someone who chooses to imagine things as they might be, in addition to how things are – or, at least how most people regard how things are. I have no problem with that. Maybe this fits your definition of idealist. Maybe not.
Yet, I see no need for idealism to exclude realism. Why does a vision for the future need to exclude “reality”? Surely the challenge we all face is getting from where we are to where we’d like to be? From needs unmet to more needs met? Of course, that’s the unreasonable man’s point of view.
And somewhat at odds with the Buddha – of inner peace coming from an acceptance of the way things are. I can live with that cognitive dissonance. At least I choose to avoid complaining. Instead I try to find solutions. And solutions mostly require doing things differently, or seeing things differently. A change of perspective is as good as a rest.
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
~ Albert Einstein
I do find it strange that “idealist” has become inextricably associated with “impractical”. I choose to regard preserving the status quo in the face of changing situations, environments, contexts, as impractical.
I have to say I don’t much like reality. Particularly the current realities of software and product development. We could be doing so much better. That’s not vain idealism. Just observation. There ARE companies doing better. Much better. The reality is that few people know this.
My idealism is grounded in realities, though. For example the reality that I don’t expect more than a very few people will act on the knowledge of the existence of these outliers. The reality that the status quo is powerful beyond measure. And the reality that in most organisations, most people don’t need to be improving, and so don’t do much about that.
“Nothing is Nirvana, nothing is perfect.”
~ Jon Stewart
So should we just give up? Pursue our own narrow agendas, serve ourselves? Research tells us that’s not how we human beings are wired. We’re wired with a social conscience. With the need to see others fulfilled as least as much as ourselves. With the need to make a difference. Maybe we’ve all been denied such opportunities in work – and life – for so long, that we’ve forgotten the joy they bring us. But the wiring’s still there.
Having ideals doesn’t preclude a desire for action, either.
“You see, idealism detached from action is just a dream. But idealism allied with pragmatism, with rolling up your sleeves and making the world bend a bit, is very exciting. It’s very real. It’s very strong.”
When people dismiss ideas as “idealistic”, most often they’re saying that they can’t imagine how to bring about that idea. How to effect it. They’re rarely saying that such ideas have no merit, or wouldn’t meet folks’ needs. Failures of imagination seem quite widespread, I note – with some sadness.
“No period of history has ever been great or ever can be that does not act on some sort of high, idealistic motives, and idealism in our time has been shoved aside, and we are paying the penalty for it.”
~ Alfred North Whitehead
How do you feel about idealism? Is there a place for it in your world? It seems like we don’t hear so much about ideals these days as we used to.
“I am an absurd idealist. But I believe that all that must come true. For, unless it comes true, the world will be laid desolate. And I believe that it can come true. I believe that, by the grace of God, men will awake presently and be men again, and colour and laughter and splendid living will return to a grey civilisation. But that will only come true because a few men will believe in it, and fight for it, and fight in its name against everything that sneers and snarls at that ideal.”
~ Leslie Charteris
The anniversary of the death of John Lennon (8 December) is coming round again. For me his words say more about the idealist than any other:
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”
~ John Lennon, Imagine