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\”Idealism\” – Word of the Week

Definition of the word of the week (IDEALISM): The act or practice of envisioning things in an honorable or principled form.

I remember sitting in front of the television and listening to John F. Kennedy’s inspiring inaugural address. Part of his speech stated, “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”

Most idealists face a daily challenge when their idealism smacks into the wall of realism. Realists tell us to face life as it is and simply to “deal with it.” They accept what is and adjust their lives accordingly. Idealists, on the other hand, seek what should be. Idealism challenges us to strive for perfection but, as President Hoover noted, “Words without actions are the assassins of idealism.” Simply talking about what we ought to do is not enough.

Idealism takes many forms. In art, idealism represents things in an aesthetically pleasing way. In ethics, an idealistic view recognizes life’s principal forces are mainly spiritual. Idealists believe that truth and goodness are objective standards worth pursuing. Idealism stands in stark contrast to the bane of the 20th Century—materialism.

Our Founding Fathers were idealists who envisioned what a free people could achieve and refused to settle for the status quo. As we struggle through the early stages of the 21st Century, we should realize that we are more than Americans, we are citizens of the world and we should ask ourselves how that world ought to be and then have the courage and strength to move the world toward that ideal, just as our Founding Fathers did for us.

President Kennedy also said, “Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”

Do we have the courage and vision to strive for what should be or are we satisfied with what is?

The following quotations are intended to assist in explaining and exemplifying the word of the week:

The business of America is business and the chief ideal of the American people is idealism. Calvin Coolidge, President

Idealism is the noble toga that political gentlemen drape over their will to power. Aldous Huxley, British author

In the revolt against idealism, the ambiguities of the word “experience” have been perceived, with the result that realists have more and more avoided the word. Bertrand Russell, Philosopher

I have seen in the Halls of Congress more idealism, more humanness, more compassion, more profiles of courage than in any other institution that I have ever known. Hubert Humphrey, Vice-President

By concentrating on what is good in people, by appealing to their idealism and their sense of justice, and by asking them to put their faith in the future, socialists put themselves at a severe disadvantage. Ian Moewan, British author

The enemy of idealism is zealotry. Neil Kinnock, Politician

Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality the cost becomes prohibitive. William F. Buckley, Author

No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism. Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister

LTC Patrick Beer, the Dean of Students and Commandant of Cadets at Georgia Military College, prepares this study guide each week as part of the institution’s character education program. He welcomes comments and suggestions from readers. He can be contacted by phone, 478-445-2710 or by email, pbeer@gmc.cc.ga.us