I am recycling a column I wrote three years ago. I believe the Trump administration is affirmation of all that I've written.
“It’s well written, but it’s idealistic” was the response to something I posted on my blog. It may have been unintentional, but I sensed a dismissive tone to the remark, implying that idealistic ideas are nice, but they are unrealistic and have no place in today’s world, and pursuing them would be a waste of time and energy. That was several weeks ago, and that simple but provocative comment has remained lodged in my brain like a small irritant.
One dictionary’s definition of idealism includes the following: satisfying one's concept of what is perfect, existing only in the imagination, desirable or perfect but not likely to become a reality, representing an abstract or hypothetical optimum, a person or thing regarded as perfect, and a standard of perfection - a principle to be aimed for.
What should we pursue as individuals and as a community if not the ideal? Should we make it our goal to achieve “it’s not the best but it will do”, being satisfied with second best? As an artist I know what happens if I settle for “good enough”. The result will be even less than that. When efforts are made to achieving second best, the results will usually be third or fourth best. Our goals, in all that we do, should be to reach for the very best. There is no guarantee it will be achieved, but without the effort we can be assured it never will be. The pursuit of mediocrity is shameful. We cannot afford to abandon idealism, not only in what we hope to achieve, but in our personal behavior.
The problem of course is, what is ideal, and who gets to define it. Clearly there are strong, conflicting opinions about this. Our country is harshly divided over political, social, and religious issues, and it is unrealistic to expect there can be universal agreement on them. But universal agreement is not, and should not be the goal. I believe the pursuit of idealism begins with each of us. The idealism I envision is not one of social and political conformity, but one grounded in individual attitudes and behavior.
In my ideal world, we are all guided by the personal values that are universal and independent of any partisan domain: honesty, respect, civility, thoughtfulness, compassion, and a concern for the greater good. When enough of us consciously embrace and live these values, cultural and political disagreements won’t disappear, but they will lose their divisiveness and toxicity.
The challenge we all face is to make “values” more than just a word, but a way of life. With our words and behavior, we can pass them on to our children, and future generations. In addition, we must demand the same from our elected officials and hold them responsible when they fall short. In this ideal world when enough citizens pursue these values they will spread outward to others, and upwards to institutions and government. I believe that if we do this, we can make a difference in the lives of everyone, and contribute to improving the quality of our governing bodies.
The pursuit of the ideal is everyone’s responsibility.