Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In An Ideal World...

Don’t get me wrong—I love Jon Stewart. Despite its obvious liberal bent, his Comedy Central show The Daily Show is often a refreshingly honest (and hilarious) respite from the wasteland of modern news shows, as it skewers the political correctness and pettiness of American journalism and politics. Perhaps most refreshing of all, he often has guests on his show who think differently than he does, and he will actually talk with them about controversial topics and have debates, instead of pretending that the only people worth having in-depth discussions with are other liberals… but I digress.

There are times, however, when Jon Stewart just doesn’t get it. One recent guest on his show was Mike Huckabee. Huck was on the show to talk about his new book Do the Right Thing, which delves into the premise that if more people acted how they ought to (as in The Golden Rule), our country would have less crime, taxes, problems, need for government, etc. One would think that there would not be much disagreement on this concept—it’s pretty simple to understand. Unfortunately, Stewart (and many others, I’ve found) have a problem with this idea. “This land you speak of, do the unicorns talk in this place?” Stewart deadpanned in response to Huckabee explaining the thesis of his book. For people like Jon Stewart, expecting society to act how it ought to is akin to believing that fairy tales are true. It just isn’t realistic.

This is just one example of how many people will react whenever the topic of what I will call “living toward ideals” comes up. “You’re not living in the real world,” people will say. “You’re being too idealistic. That’s not how the world is. Not every family has a mom and a dad to take care of a child. People steal and kill. Don’t talk about how people should be because that’s not how it is.” I suppose I understand why people think this way. It sounds logical, indeed realistic. But it seems to me that it is missing the point entirely.

In our panic to appear well-grounded, rational, and “tolerant,” we seem to have lost our sense of ideals. As an example, any talk in the public forum about how a child deserves both a mother and a father would be seen as “insensitive” to single parents and gays, despite the obvious truth of the ideal. Single parents are often put on pedestals, living proof that people can overcome difficult odds to raise a child. It is obvious that single parenthood is better than nothing and often very commendable, but it doesn’t change the fact that the child was deprived of a mother or a father and the essential nurturing that both provide in their own unique way.

In the midst of our rush to realism, an occasional reminder of how we should ideally live is seen as pesky and annoying, something that we inherently know deep down to be true but also know how painful it is to change ourselves for the better. And when people like Mike Huckabee come out with an entire book on the subject, the popular (Stewart) reaction is defensive: “But that’s not realistic.”

I think that we fail to realize how dangerous this attitude is. I submit that the Jon Stewart’s of the world (who is all of us, at one time or another) aren’t being intentionally malicious in rushing to realism, but I would argue that we are unwittingly conditioning ourselves to settle for less than we are capable of. To state that it is “unrealistic” for everyone to treat each other kindly is to indirectly say that there is no hope for the world and that we shouldn’t even try. To cry “unrealistic” is to mistakenly think that one must be successful in every attempt at living toward an ideal; we know that perfectly achieving an ideal is impossible on this earth—the point is in trying one’s best without worrying about the results. It’s in the journey toward the ideal that we improve ourselves and those around us. That’s the whole point of having ideals in the first place.

And so, I say that it’s ok to be idealistic. It’s ok to be “na├»ve”, as they may call me. To be anything less would be to not only sell myself short, but the world.