Originally Published: August 28, 2001 7 p.m.
This is my tenth column on the subject of character.
How does a person maintain hope in a world such as this? Which is another way of asking how does one hold on to his idealism?
I am proud to acknowledge that I am a card-carrying idealist. And like other idealists, I have found it challenging to maintain this particular belief system. Through the years I have increasingly understood the wisdom of Arthur Schlesinger when he said, "I am a short-term pessimist but a long-term optimist."
I was born in the midst of the Great Depression, was distantly exposed to the horrors of World War II when I was a youngster, served in the army in Korea in the early 1950s, grew to adulthood during the Cold War, was active in the Civil Rights movement, and have lived to see the collapse of communism.
Like the rest of my generation I have seen human beings at their worst and at their best. Each day I read headlines that make me despair for the human race. Yet I try to imagine a more perfect world, just as I did when I was a child.
The noble struggle to keep hope alive despite dispiriting evidence of human frailty is part of what sustains me. Living without a vision that enables me to find joy in discovering the wonders of the universe, happiness in the small accomplishments of friends and family, and beauty in the inventiveness of human beings would be no life at all.
Each of us holds certain ideals that impact our judgment and decisions. They guide us through life. For some, comfort, material possessions and wealth are an ideal goal; others choose the ideals of goodness, beauty and truth. Still others pursue power or fame or social status while some are satisfied to build strong loving family ties.
I, and many within my generation, have had a passionate interest in social justice and social responsibility. For me, a growing awareness of the evils of prejudice and discrimination against minorities gave form to ideals that significantly shaped and guided my life. The absence of a world free of prejudice and discrimination does not diminish my commitment to the ideals of universal brotherhood and sisterhood.
What it comes down to, for me, is the hopefulness of idealism. Without idealism the twin despairs of hopelessness and helplessness are free to take over individual lives. Idealism provides us with an optimistic view of the world. It enables us to look for positives within our lives and the lives of others.
I am an idealist because I do not choose to be bound by present troubles; I prefer to dream of – and in my own small way work for – a better world.
(Ron Barnes is a longtime Prescott resident and a semi-retired educator and businessman.)