When we are children we are idealistic in planning to be astronauts, cowboys, movie stars. When we are teenagers we are idealistic in dreaming of the perfect romance, best school, best job, non-stop success, and saving the world. These dreams should be tempered with realism from our elders, but often are not.
In college, students are told they can create a ‘new man’, eliminate poverty, level the classes, educate everyone, eliminate prejudice, and stop war. Many of the liberal students believe this, and go into journalism, teaching, or social work.
Some churches contribute to this by preaching: a sublime brotherhood, only positives, good intentions are enough, a cult of personality, etc.
The more immature the young adults are, the more susceptible they are to going off the deep end of idealism. Some join communes, cults, sects, or ill-founded protest movements. Some join the Peace Corps with stars in their eyes, and finish having accomplished little or nothing. (I saw this when in the domestic version – VISTA, later combined with AMERICORPS).
Some go to Wash. D.C. to ‘clean up’ politics. But Washington needs ‘cleans’ only temporarily at a high level after a scandal to quell controversy. Once things calm down, they are discarded as Washington is more comfortable with leakers, gamesmen, and backstabbers.
Idealistic young people get into the wrong work or marry the wrong person. Idealistic brokers lose money. Idealistic military officers risk their men in battle. Idealistic parents spoil their kids. Idealistic preachers lead their flocks to disaster (Jim and Tammy Bakker, Jim Jones).
On a much larger scale the greatest danger is in revolutions. Idealistic intellectuals fan the flames to burn everything down so they can come to power. They are hostile to compromise. They lack maturity and patience, and become more authoritarian than the regimes they replaced. In the past they created communism and fascism. In some they abolished money. In one they persecuted those wearing glasses for being ‘intellects’. They’ve purged, committed genocide, and started wars. Other idealists have gone off to fight them, thinking the war would be over in a few weeks.
During the Spanish Civil War, idealists joined the International Brigade to fight for democracy. Later they found their side was autocratic and backed by communists. In China the idealistic young were unleashed as the Red Guards from l966-76, bringing one of the worst periods in that country’s history.
Idealism is the pitfall of youthful inexperience. Older people have an obligation to expose the young to reality at every step of their development.
Let’s put aside the naive, blind, forced feel-good emphasis on positives, togetherness, relationships-mania, everyone being equal in every way, everyone’s a winner, everything’s ‘new’, and other pied piper rhetoric and get back to reality.