Tempering Idealism Against Realism


Author – Neeraja Sundar


As a child, I misunderstood the word Utopia. My little brain confused it with Ethiopia. The poverty-stricken African country always raised the image of a malnourished child who is treasuring a drop of water. I was flabbergasted to hear that people dreamed of such living conditions. Two almost-similar words and such contrasting meanings!!! I thought of it as a close enough example for realism and idealism.

Idealism or Utopian concepts are dreams or thoughts of a nearly perfect world. It is often associated with youth who think big and hope to revolutionise the world. Very often idealism is nothing more than just thoughts or words. Young dreamers turn cynical or society discourages them. More importantly, their drive to achieve is short lived and not strong enough. They think big and do very little.

Our Indian movies show the protagonist as a do-gooder who cannot stand injustice. The villains or his friends advise him to not take on the world. But our hero, against all odds, changes every single person in the society to a just and morally upstanding citizen. This is a Utopian idea which is laughable and typically ‘us’.

Society is a heterogeneous group and idealism is a relative concept. The idea of idealism itself is Utopian. Our country’s favourite issue is corruption. I remember one particularly intense discussion involving the Hand, the Rising Sun and a significant sum of money. Young, enthusiastic minds pitched in opinions on how to eradicate corruption and lamented over the thieving politicians. That evening, as my friend and I were travelling on a two-wheeler, we were hailed by a policeman. It was the end of the month and my friend’s helmetless head looked like a giant 100 rupee note. Did we refuse to bribe him? Did we seek to deal with it in the court? Of course not! That is realism.

The concept of utopianism sparks in the youth and dies right there. This is because an ideal world is the highest peak of Everest and we haven’t even reached the Himalayas yet. Reality bogs us down at every turn. Reality can seem pessimistic and we look for an opposite outlook.

In the literary world, realism focused on the mundane and workaday activities of people- no exciting lives, no stimulating adventure or earth-shattering romance. It showed the functioning of human mind which can actually never stay aboard on a single train of thought for a long time. Our minds are fickle and our temperaments, weak. We want something that massive that the small victories or contributions are overlooked.

The reality of realism frightens us and causes us to fantasise about a perfect world where each of us are exemplary.
We have a long way to go. A perfect world is an excellent goal to work towards. But it has a million intermediate steps. We need to tackle our problems one at a time- starting with ourselves. ‘Be the change you want to see’ was a famous quote by Gandhi. As narcissistic as it might sound, everything starts with us. We have made it so and we should live by it.

Realism is the realisation that dawns on us that changing ourselves is not that easy. And we think of changing the world.

Idealism and realism are rather two mutually exclusive concepts. To express it mathematically, we can conjure a Venn diagram with two tangent circles. I am not propagating nihilism but stating the harsh reality. It is easier to live as a realist and dream like an idealist. It involves ‘accepting’ situations as it is and wishing for a glorified life. Both seem like escapism.

Someday the two circles ought to merge or at least intersect. Someday idealism can be realism. I do not wish to state philosophy about how all our efforts and determination can be channelized into creating a better future.

Idealistically, that is what ought to be done but realism prevents it. Utmost what can be done is stop confusing the future with the present, stop hoping for idealism while ignoring the reality.

Understanding idealism and realism is important. There is more than just a fine line dividing them. As a matter of fact, a wide chasm separates them. If realism is a vast ocean, idealism is zenith. We need to swim in the waters and rise onto the land before we can hope to fly.

Image – Pixabay

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