To be idealistic is not to be naïve

Posted on October 23, 2010


We should be careful not to equate idealism with naïveté. If we step out of the confines of school thinking that the world will be as noble as our student organizations, as fair as our exams, and as kind as our teachers, then we are being naïve. That is not what idealism is.

The word “idealism” comes from Plato’s theory of Ideas. The ancient Greek philosopher says the things of this world are but shadows of eternal, unchanging, and supreme Ideas. In the world of Ideas, everything is perfect; the world of shadows is a second-rate imitation. So our neighbor’s mango tree, for example, which is barren and even vandalized, is but a shadow of the Idea of a Tree – which is flawless.

From this we get a sense of what it means to be idealistic. To be idealistic is not to train our eyes only on the shadows of our wounded world, but more so on the ideals of a perfect one. A genuinely idealistic person is not one who only views the world through rose-tinted glasses. He or she keeps a grounded view of what the world is, but holds on to a grander vision of what the world should be.

To be idealistic is to aim high. It is to brave the currents that go the opposite direction. It is not to give up on a world that others view as hopeless.

To lose one’s idealism is to implicitly lose hope in the ultimate triumph of goodness. Or at the very least, it is to lose faith in our capacity to take part in it. It is to lose sight of the vision of Heaven – to disown our chance to make the uphill journey toward the ideal.