Most of us are familiar with the Winston Churchill saying “If you’re twenty and not a socialist you have no heart; if you’re forty and not a capitalist you have no head.”
We may not be quite as familiar with similar words coined by Mark Twain which state that “The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after it, he knows too little.”
Considering myself inept in all political matters, but liking the whole “heart and head” imagery, I prefer to combine them into the following: “If you’re twenty and not an optimist you have no heart; if you’re forty and not a pessimist you have no head.”
There…I’ve said it. Now I’d like to take issue with it.
Although I understand the meaning behind these statements, I find it profoundly disturbing that we give such little credit to ourselves, both current and future. Are we destined to always be failing? At any given moment in my life must I be either living in the realm of the impossible or else bitterly grumbling the cold hard truths of the world?
I think not. I think we must all strive to be the same thing, no matter what DOB appears on our birth certificate. We must strive to be practical idealists.
Perhaps to many this is a bit of a contradiction. To be practical is to be sensible and realistic, to be idealistic is to be unrealistically seeking perfection. But in the spirit of combining sayings I ask…can we not sensibly and realistically seek perfection? After all, perfection is not a discrete entity–it is a spectrum, and the farther along the spectrum we trek, the better off we will be, even if we never reach our destination. ”Ideals are like the stars,” Carl Schurz says, ”we never reach them, but like the mariners of the sea, we chart our course by them.”
It is possible that my saying this comes from my own youthful sense of idealism. Perhaps, you will call me in 50 years and see that I fell right into the trap. I will sit on my front porch in my rocking chair and curse at young hoodlums as they skip merrily past my house, jaded by life experience and bittered by cynicism. Possible? Perhaps, but realists know better than to live in the world of possibilities, eh?
So follow your heart. Follow your head. Follow that little voice in the back of your mind that tells you how things ought to be. But most of all, try your best find the balance between them, and try your best to live as G.K. Chesterton’s ordinary man does: with one foot on earth, and one in fairyland.