IDEALISTS and their conflict

Monday, 24 November 1997

I am an idealist, but I live in a world full of corruption, injustice and inequality, with unideal relations between people, between people and nature, and even between people and their own selves. In this world, I strive for perfect happiness, perfect love, a perfect life, even the perfect career for myself. This quest for perfection in a world so far from perfect inevitably leads to internal conflict – disillusion versus stubborn belief in the good and the possibility of something better.

Is perfect happiness attainable? Is it possible to achieve a perfect form of love? Is it possible to always, at all times, make the kind of impression on people you can subsequently describe as accurate according to the view you have of yourself? Is perfect faith an achievable goal that we should pursue? Are perfect relationships possible? Is it possible to always live up to your full potential?

I – the person asking these questions – am an idealist. My approach to life reflects a trend that would suggest “Yes” ought to be my response to these questions. What else should I do – give up on what I strive for, and just assume that perfection is an unattainable myth? Should I be happy with whatever is offered, or whatever I have at that particular moment?

The problem, whether I accept it or continue swimming upstream in denial, is that the world is overflowing with imperfection. This forces me to face an unpleasant fact: The position of an idealist in an unideal world leads, in many cases, to confusion, loneliness, isolation and depression. That such a person would display a certain lack of success in dealing with this unideal world, that he would display an inability to engage in a creative, productive, mutually beneficial relationship with the world around him, should come as no surprise.

One option for the idealist is to withdraw – to retreat to a “smaller”, more easily manipulated world where he would be more at ease; where his sensitive nature won’t be so easily afflicted by the occasional crudeness of life and the seemingly daily occurrence of injustice; where the dirty, contaminated hands of an unideal world won’t be able to reach him; where he would feel safe.

Some idealists take on the persona of the Loner – the solitary man or woman, but I reckon this is to a large extent only part of a cosmetic solution. The original problem remains: inner conflict brought on by the contrast between their expectations of how things ought to be, and how things actually are.

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How does one deal with such a disturbingly imperfect world? Do you accept and submit? Do you flee into the waiting arms and warm bosom of fundamentalist religion where all answers are dictated to you, and if pre-packaged answers aren’t sufficient you are simply told, “God has a plan for everything” or “God is in control”? Do you become a fugitive perpetrator of violence as a conscious or spontaneous response to imperfection and to mock the humble efforts of ordinary people who try to cope in the only way they know how? Or do you pull into the driveway and collapse on the couch minutes later for an evening in front of the TV? Do you become Gandhi or Stalin? Jesus Christ or Julius Caesar? Do you quit or do you commit? Commit to what? I’m going to drive myself insane! Time for some tea and a cigarette …


[For the idealist to take on the persona of the “loner” is more than just a cosmetic solution.

Being a “loner” often provides the person with a temporary refuge. It is a measure that enables the person to do what they ought to do – work out a meaningful, productive and hopefully mutually beneficial relationship with the world.]