Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Case for Ode to Idealists!

Three young idealists, who blew away their competition: (L-R) Gandhi, Obama with his high school basketball team, and Walt Disney, all in their teens.

I often wonder about the difference between great idealism, great ambition, and great stupidity. It is a fine line indeed. Idealism has always been scoffed at. But where would we be without it?? Failed idealism is often termed as stupidity. But is it really??

I like the quote "Aim for the moon; if you miss it, you will still land among the stars." It is only when you aim high that you can soar high.

George Bernard Shaw once famously said, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

And indeed so. Its very easy to forget that the people who have been the greatest visionaries were also termed as idiots and idealists. While everyone now might laugh at the thought, Americans have been quick to forget that the president they now adore would not have been but for a healthy dose of idealism on his part. Barack Obama for all given purposes had no business even thinking he would be President. He was of mixed parentage, with a white mother and African (different from African American) father; grew up in Hawaii (a state that has produced zero presidents before this one) with no proper religious background; had a muslim middle name sandwiched between strong Kenyan names; had a Harvard degree, no military service, very little public service, and was of modest means. Add onto that, that he was running against a Clinton. Yet he ran, and he won. And hopefully, he will be the change we all want to see among leaders of our world.

Speaking of "be the change," think of Gandhi, a softspoken, slight Indian man who thought that he could take down the mighty British empire, with a grand total of, well, no weapons. Even fist fights weren't allowed!! If he had told you in the early 1900's that the non-violence movement would not only encompass India and topple the British empire, but bring civil rights to African Americans in the US, reverse apartheid in one of the most racist regimes in the world - South Africa, bring the Chinese military to its knees in Tianenman Square, and become the mainstay of EVERY modern demonstration in the world, you would have laughed!! Many did; yet all those things happened and the movement still endures.

A few days ago, I found myself in another mecca of idealism - Disneyland. Riding some of the rides I had loved as a kid, I was struck by how timeless they were. Disney was SO ahead of his time. To think that much of Disneyland and Disney World's layouts have scarcely changed since they were built, inspite of the massive changes in technology in the recent past; that the most popular rides then still endure, and they continue to "make dreams come true" everyday is mindboggling. I'm sure if Disney had told you in the 30's that people would pay an-arm-and-a-leg to watch talking robot animals in the 21st century, we would have laughed. Yet here we are, years later doing exactly that.

Probably the biggest and powerful idealists are parents and teachers - moms, especially.

I think we need more idealism. Balanced with pragmatism, an unrelenting idealist with clear vision is capable of great change. Rather than laughing at them, maybe we should support them with our pragmatism. That while they soar high, we can be the tails on their kites to guide them, while also enjoying the ride.

Here's to the idealists amongst us!!


Rohit Mishra said...

What an article!!! Agree with every word of yours. The 'practical' people are often the biggest resistance to change. You got it bang-on.

pragzz said...

Thank you Rohit! I'd agree that this post is one of my favorites. I wrote it in a moment of heightened inspiration.

Just hit your blog. Good stuff there!

Rohit Mishra said...

Thanks!! Are you on Twitter?

pragzz said...

unfortunately not yet. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the blog and facebook and all...obviously I'm behind the times here. If Oprah can find the time, so should I, right??

Rohit Mishra said...

Yah!!! You will enjoy it. Take out some time for it. You will find me there @movingahead

ASCEND Alliance said...

I appreciated your article immensely. It is really easy most times to dismiss people and their ideas when things seem to far-fetched or too outlandish or idealistic. But it is important to realize, like you mentioned, that without out great risks, there are no great gains or progress.

I think that people tend to hold the same ideas about idealism that they do for service. All of my life I have been involved in service and working to make my community a better place. At the moment I am interning with a non-profit organization. I hear all the time from friends, family, fellow peers that I cannot change the world or make a difference so why am I working so hard?

I however dispell that notion and really believe that an individual can make a difference and is influential. Idealism is a great trait and should be regarded highly in our society!

Intern at ASCEND Alliance