“Life without idealism is empty indeed. We just hope or starve to death.” – Pearl S. Buck
A friend told me last week that I should stop trying to create an “ideal” world. This was in response to a note I sent him about his reply to one of my last posts on the YWBB. He was critical of my stance on the negativity that finds such an easy foothold on the board in part because of the grief but also because those of us who know better are too slow to correct the naysayers and voices of despair. I told him, no, because I am not going to stop trying to share my own experiences or hoping the world will become a better place. I am not going to let darkness prevail. To which his response was that I was going to do well in Canada.
Americans and their right-wing ideas about Canadians aside, this got me thinking about whether I am truly an idealist or not. I have certainly copped to the Pollyanna label but rose-colored glasses might not be true idealism.
The googled definition of an idealist reads like this:
“One of the seven attitudes. Its positive pole is coalescence; its negative pole is abstraction. Idealists view the world in terms of how it could be changed for the better.”
Rob thinks that I fit that definition but that I haven’t really had much of an opportunity to action simply because I haven’t had a solid foundation from which to work for a very long time now. I would agree that on my good days I generally am trying to rally the troops (interesting analogy – would an idealist use a military analogy?) to a common cause and that at my least focused I tend towards the unrealistic in terms of ideas and implementation. But to just give in to the general malaise and admit defeat in the face of odds small or overwhelming is not something I can do. I don’t deny my own dark moments when it seemed to me that I would never feel anything but misery again. It’s disingenuous to tell someone that tragedy won’t affect us and change who we are, but Anne Frank wasn’t wrong when she stated her belief that deep down people are good. And I am not wrong when I add that the world is a good place too.
I think that grief makes it too easy for us to quit. We say to ourselves that since life will never be the same then it will never be as good either. This allows us to not even try because if we try and fail then that is a reflection on us, but if we give ourselves permission to not try at all then we can hide in our widow weeds, safe from self-loathing and worldly expectations. There is a reason that society both close and far puts pressure on us to “get over” our spouse’s deaths and it is not just to ease their discomfort. It’s not good for us to bog down. Get stuck. There is nothing emotionally healthy in viewing life as having been spent and seeing the time ahead of us as something to merely be marked. In encouraging us to look to a brighter tomorrow and to lay aside our negative feelings and outlooks, we are being urged to embrace life. And is life perfect? No, and it wasn’t before, but it is and always has been a product of hope, imagination, and some effort.
From time to time I need to step back from the idea that I can make a difference on my own. Teaching is an example of that. After 20 years I have resigned from my current position and will not be teaching when the fall finds me in Canada. Teaching is a profession that demands a lot of “give” on the part of the instructor and very little “give back” from the students, but if you are doing it correctly you should burn out periodically and need to change venues by way of changing schools, grade levels or subject areas. If you are passionate about what you do, it should show. I am probably a little past my prime when it comes to letting my love of a job consume me. I have other more important things in my life, but I still think that what you choose to do for a living should matter and make a difference in your little acre of life. You can’t make anything or anyone be perfect but you shouldn’t settle either.
Could it be that my unwillingness to settle is what others call idealism? Even when faced with ample evidence to the contrary, I have still found it hard to accept that people can’t change, the world might never be a better place and that tomorrow isn’t another day. My Scarlett side, I guess. Because if we all just gave up, decided nothing we could do or say would make any difference or improvement, wouldn’t our world just spiral – negatively – into a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and gloom?