So you think you’re not an idealist

“Breathe deeply, until sweet air extinguishes the burn of fear in your lungs and every breath is a beautiful refusal to become anything less than infinite.” – D. Antoinette Foy

Idealism. What does this word mean to you?

I find it is a word tainted by cynicism and condescension. Idealist attitudes are often regarded as a ‘nice-to-have nonessential’, like a cute pet or a pretty indoor plant. Sweet, but superfluous to survival.

But for me, idealism is the fire in my belly, the passion beneath my ribcage, the singing in my heart. Idealism comes from the soul. It is a feeling that cannot be contained in a cage, or quietened by explanation.

Victor Hugo quote

Without idealism, I feel empty, apathetic, resigned. Without idealism, I lose faith. So I refuse to let go of my utopian dreams in favour of ‘reality’. What is reality, anyway?

Reality, noun: The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.

Reality, by definition, is fixed. It is the way things are in the present moment. Reality is a slave to time.

But life is fluid. The reality of today is different from the reality of yesterday, and will be different to the reality of tomorrow.

As time passes, reality changes. So maybe idealists are just realistic about the fact the future will look different to the present.

Idealist, noun: A person who represents things as they might or should be rather than as they are.

Within the framework of these definitions, realists are passive and idealists are active. Realists accept their current situation and idealists strive for greener pastures.

In that light, I believe most people, by nature, are idealists. It is a distinctly human trait to strive for more.

I could go one step further: is it not idealism that is at the heart of capitalism? Does it not underpin the American Dream?

The current capitalist argument goes like this: anyone can make something of themselves if only they work hard enough. Anyone can attain the American Dream. It doesn’t matter where you sit on the socioeconomic scale, you have the power to transform your own destiny.

That very philosophy is underpinned by a refusal to accept things the way they currently are and instead transform your own reality into something different.

It seems only when difficult issues are raised – such as the environment, the state of the economy, the questionable justice system – that people pull out the reality card as their defence. “That’s just the way things are”. As if our lives are bound by a set of rules that will never change.

I passionately and urgently refuse that soul-crushing statement “that’s just the way things are”.

I will never give up hope that things could be – and should be – better.

Idealists are often the punchline of jokes, teased for being a bit green or naïve, because they dream of making the world a better place.

But we should be rallying to protect these glorious ideals, to invest hope and energy into creating a better future, because what is the alternative? To accept current systems that are failing us and the environment? To resign future generations to a set of rules that cannot be altered?

Fortunately I feel confident that idealism will never be supressed. How can it be, when new ideas spring to life every single day? It doesn’t matter if you are the most realistic, logical person in the world: your life is constantly changing. Nothing will stay the same forever.

Those that resist change and mock idealists are those that are benefitting from things being the way they are (thanks Russell Brand).

Why would people not want to improve the environment in which we live? Why would people not want to have more freedom? To live in a more harmonious world? To reduce conflict? To improve quality of life?

You have to ask yourself what drives these opinions. Despite what some people claim, it is not unwavering realism or defeatist attitude. It is likely fear. Fear of change.

But to let fear of change stand in the way of a better world is to be afraid of life itself. Look around you. All the things we find most beautiful, beaches and lakes and mountains, these are the product of a constant state of change. Think how long it took for sand to form, for trees to grow.

Change is inevitable. Anything is possible. We defy our own expectations all the time. The world will continue to surprise us in ways we could never imagine.

So ask yourself: what do you want to change?

And let your inner idealist roam free.

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