Is it better to live in this world as an idealist?
It is hard to find fault with a worldview which involves seeing everything through rose-colored glasses, transmuted and distorted into elegant and beautiful and melancholy forms.
Where others see an old cracked statue, we notice the moss crawling over the angel’s face, the chip on its wing, the paint on its arms scabbed and unsightly from years spent in the sun and the wind, and feel an immeasurable sadness we cannot explain deep in our chests.
Where others see an old, worn chair left out on the street, we see a lonely creature, abandoned by its owner and left out in the rain and the cold.
As children, it was the idealists who spoke to their toys as if they were alive, had imaginary friends whose voices they swore they could hear, and played make-believe with such fierceness they sometimes could see exactly what they were imagining, screaming with true fear at the monster clawing out from the bedroom cupboard and sobbing their eyes out when the unicorn vanquished in a pool of its own silvery blood, and came downstairs to dinner disorientated.
Through an idealist’s eyes, a place like Ancient Egypt becomes a world of endless, undulating sand and rich perfumes and gold, the glistening gush of the Nile – not a civilization who lived and endured as all humans have done since the dawn of time, ate meals and loved and wondered in cities baked hot by the sun, where sand had a habit of getting into everything and embalming the dead was a more grisly than sacred business. Which is why, much as idealists might adore the idea of visiting Egypt or whatever the ancient civilization they are enraptured with (and there is sure to be one), we would hesitate if handed a ticket and asked to pack a suitcase, for deep down, we don’t want to travel anywhere except in our minds. To see a place, breathe in its scents, to have it right there before us, beneath a familiar sky, would make it real, ordinary, sewn into the fabric of what already exists – and nothing could be more terrible than that.
Likewise, when it comes to relationships, idealists also recourse to their imaginations, a habit that often does more bad than good. Love, filled with rich and nuanced possibilities, is a ripe fruit for imagination to feed upon. It is a thousand times more fulfilling to pine after the fantasy of a person than discover who they really are (which is generally someone who is a little irritating, a little selfish, a little pitiful), to envision romantic escapades and love affairs than to, well, actually engage in healthy, adult relationships. We tell other people we have a fear of intimacy, but that’s not true. It’s just that intimacy imagined is often better than intimacy experienced. For figures to exist in our imaginations as flawed and exalted creatures, suspended in glowing coronas, is much more entertaining than to have the person right there, beside you, holding your hand, real, flesh-and-blood, real and dull.
This is why some idealists have a tendency to slip in and out of love so quickly, their hearts slippery as fishes – they love from afar, and fall out of love when faced with the reality of the person up close. The idealist knows that love, when experienced properly, eventually lessens in intensity and peters out into comfort, that not every day of the relationship can be kisses in the rain or dancing together in a train carriage as it hurtles through the darkness, that there will be days where you look across at the person you lie next to and want to slap him or her; and it is because we are well aware of these realities that we do everything they can do avoid them, consciously and unconsciously pushing people away, obsessing from afar, stirring up drama in our lives. The alternative is being with someone you will one day be able to vomit and fart and scream in rage in front of without batting an eyelash. The alternative is for the dreaming to end.
There is a reason why so many idealists tend to gravitate towards the creative professions, working as writers or painters, filmmakers or graphic designers. Art is idealized reality shaped into something tangible. So whenever artists paint or write or direct or design, they are sharing their version of reality – and to be able to do that, you must find the current reality to be intolerable in the first place. One only goes seeking for something more when what one has is dissatisfying. The less intense idealists dabble in their creations. The more intense let their creations consume them, allow themselves to be swept up in the colours and the words and the images conjured from their imaginations, desperate to create and, in the act of creation, escape into something that feels like home, something strange and wonderful and otherworldly to make their heart tingle with delight and their fingertips brush, just for a moment, against the golden bellies of heaven’s clouds.
Nothing in life is immune to the idealist’s imagination, not even themselves. Every person on this planet holds an idealized version of themselves in their head. It is a simple ego mechanism, designed to uphold one’s self-esteem. If you saw yourself as the flawed creature you truly were, it would be difficult to look at the face in the mirror in the morning. But idealists have a tendency to take it a step further. Not only do we idealize parts of ourselves, we also create entire personas to slip on and off like different outfits, each outfit made up of qualities we would like to possess, or qualities we found in others that we liked, taking a scrap of fabric here and there and stitching it all together to create patchworks of personalities. That is why many idealists make good actors; for a lot of us, every second is a chance to appear surly or elegant or disdainful or flirtatious or stoic or proud or dismissive or mad or sad or disappointed or brash, and revel in whatever person or emotion we are portraying. Our lives are plays, ourselves the stars, and the world, whether or not anyone is watching, our audience. The only downside to this is that sometimes we struggle to pinpoint where the acting ends and the living begins, and which parts of us are our “true selves”, or if there even is one.
We can also be delusional in our assessments of our attractiveness, our talent, our ability, and this, for good or worse, makes us more likely to succeed in our endeavors. Unlike pragmatics, who are, from the outset, often aware of the limitations circumscribing their goals, their own and those imposed by the external world, idealists are better able to gloss over such trivialities and keep plugging away at whatever they have their heart set on. We do not give up easily. Eventually, doggedness and practice and a dash of luck overcomes any limitations that existed initially. In believing in our ability to achieve something or create something or make some change in the world, we make it come true.
There are downsides, of course. To outsiders, we seem lost with the fairies, disconnected from all that is proper and correct, naïve and silly – and sometimes we are. It is easier for us to get lost, to feel alone, to feel strange or odd or crazy. To feel stupid. There are those who make it their life’s mission to dampen anyone who is too idealistic and in love with life because their own lives are not happy ones, and we can only gaze at such people in mute anger and bemusement. And when our daydreams are momentarily broken, shattered briefly, a virtual world fragmenting into pixels with the true reality behind the Matrix flashing through the gaps, horrifying and cruel and bland, we die tiny deaths. Fortunately, such incidents do not last long, and we soon return to our dream-worlds to sit beside the stream of imagination, trailing our fingers in its iridescent waters, and gazing, forever, at the pictures flowing past us amongst the ripples, in all their glorious and dazzling multitudes.