High school and college students as well as young professionals across the country are constantly reminded – often in a contemptuous and condescending manner – that their personal aspirations, or dreams of a different political or social makeup, are fundamentally unrealistic. The voice of the cynic (which need not be an adult, for this voice is very often given form by ultra-rationalistic, disenchanted peers) rings loud and clear, repeating itself day in and day out until the dreamer, the optimist, the hopeful visionary is beaten down into “the real world” thus becoming a cynical derisive voice of contempt and “reality” himself.
Given this pattern, it is truly no wonder our political, economic, educational, and social systems have been at a standstill of apathetic lethargy and corruption, utterly lacking in any imaginative quality capable of envisioning some alternative – for once again, alternatives are deemed altogether unrealistic in this dogmatic framework.
So for the students and professionals who have not yet lost this visionary, optimistic spirit of hope, I have a few things to say regarding the current unfortunate situation we find ourselves in.
There is nothing wrong with idealism
As a professor of mine frequently noted, when someone tells you that you are being idealistic, or utopian, they are telling you to get with the program. What they really mean is that your aspirations, longings, or visions of an alternative political future lie outside of the current system and that, because of this, they are impractical and unworthy of effort. They are telling you that your ideas need adjusting so as to better conform to standards of success and pragmatism.
The reason these critiques should rarely be taken seriously is that our current standards of success in addition to our current political environment and economic reality leave much to be desired. If your personal and societal expectations and aspirations lie outside the normative framework, then they are probably on the right track.
Material accumulation and the constant quantification of honors, awards, and paychecks – the very measures of success for most of the professional (specifically corporate) world, not only fail to present an accurate indication of value, meaning, and worth in life, but arguably hinder the chances of any human person from actually realizing those things. So far as the rat race distracts us from genuine meaning, the traditional measures of success should be tossed out the window. The political and economic climate follows the same direction – orchestrated by a championing of competition as the ultimate ideal and resulting in a sepsis of both congressional and corporate control. One must simply ask whether or not this is the type of program he or she wants to “get with.”
Idealism, or utopianism, or whatever other condescending term the cultural cynic uses to label your alternative hopes, aspirations, and optimism for change, is indeed the vehicle for true change and the living of a genuine life. Embrace it and be bold in the face of such derision. The world has enough pessimistic “get-with-the-program” brow beaters.
Everyone is living in the real world
Whenever someone invokes abstract forewarnings about “when you enter the real world,” they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Some will insist the real world begins after high school, others after college, others when you get married or what have you. The bottom line is that everyone currently walking the earth is wrapped up in the real world. The struggles and triumphs of high school are every bit as significant and genuine as those of college and professional life. Obviously the degree of responsibility we take up and our roles in the world vary over time, but resist any and all attempts people make to delegitimize your experiences and worldviews based on some poorly thought out conception of this thing called “the real world.” It’s very often another manifestation of the cynical and defeatist “get with the program attitude.”