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Posted on March 15, 2009 by jimparedes

Idealism is the new realism
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes Updated March 15, 2009 12:00 AM

screen-capture-11Illustration by Rey Rivera
As a young man many moons ago, I looked at the world in a way many older people would call “idealistic.” Understandably, I had an innocence, which was not surprising, since all of us were born with it. Generally, I saw people as good and trustworthy.

The world to me was a mysteriously wonderful, vibrant arena where new, exciting adventures occurred, even as a lot of older people saw it as dangerous. I saw love as something that could defy everything, including time, because it could last forever and perhaps even save the world.

I believed that people who stumbled, fell and were down in the dumps could always rise and be redeemed. And I believed that good would always triumph over evil. That was how the world appeared to me then. And you know what? I may surprise you but, at my age, I still generally hold on to these views.

For many, the abandoning of innocence, or getting booted out of the Eden of idealism, generally means adopting a paradigm that is more on the cynical, apathetic, fearful, suspicious and opportunity-limited side of life. And summing up this whole paradigm is a word that is considered a virtue in the adult world — “practical.” As a grownup, one is expected to abandon one’s idealism and embrace the practical.

To those who have left their youth and ideals, “practical” is how the real world runs. Being practical will keep you grounded, and real. It will save you from disappointments and heartaches. It is the antidote to being a wide-eyed, pie-in-the-sky Pollyanna.

Perhaps.

In truth, as much as I see the value of being practical, I am often suspicious of it. Because in many of my personal experiences, during the major turning points of life, I have chosen not to be practical.

When I was deciding what I should do http://www.achaten-suisse.com/ after college, I went against the practical wisdom of many well-meaning advisers and elders who told me to get a 9 to 5 job. It was easy for me to ignore this one since, the truth was, I was deathly afraid of the corporate world which I found to be too staid, formal and, well… corporate!

But I was also afraid that, as an aspiring artist, I would, in all likelihood, face starvation and poverty. Yet I knew that between these two fears, I was more inclined to take a risk on being a songwriter and performer. Sure, it scared me that while my classmates who had entered the business or corporate life were enjoying regular salaries, medical benefits and perks, I also knew the real fear of meaninglessness and boredom, of not being able to fit into the big corporate setup. Between the rock of boredom and the hard place of possible poverty, I chose the latter, risking material deprivation over the possible death of my spirit.

In my musical career, I, together with APO, chose to write original songs in Filipino and sing them instead of just doing covers of popular songs by foreign artists which, at that time, was everyone’s formula for success. Thank God, our choice not only led to the blossoming of our collective spirits but the filling of our pockets.

During the Marcos era where the practical thing to do in the entertainment world was to go along with the dictator and enjoy the largesse Imelda Marcos loved to shower on artists and showbiz people, the APO often chose the impractical and idealistic path of dissent. We committed our efforts to some crazy unsure dream of overthrowing the all-powerful Marcoses, restoring democracy and helping establish a new regime. We went for all these even when it entailed a lot of personal and career setbacks along the way. Again, it was a choice between the call of the practical versus the ideal.

This has always been the struggle for me. Every time I have felt most that people were going a certain way that seemed to be the “sure” thing, I have purposely looked at why the other path was not attractive, and would often find compelling reasons to follow it.

I’ve often asked myself why I am like this. Is it because I am my parents’ son? Does having gone to Ateneo have something to do with it? Or am I just being a product of my time? Perhaps it’s all of the above.

When I was doing a lot of TV work years ago, I would constantly butt heads with the executives, writers, etc., about what we were being asked to dish out on the air. I felt a lot of the shows we were doing hardly espoused any redeeming values. They were silly, stupid and often even toxic to young watchers. I was never comfortable about “dumb-downing” our TV audience.

Of course, the big bosses always won the argument. Commercial considerations, especially the crassest of them, almost always won over more “artistic” and redemptive ideas. But despite that, I never learned to be “practical,” even if I saw with my own eyes that so much of what I considered trashy would actually pull up ratings. If I were to run a big media conglomerate, I would run it differently, and yes, with more redeeming programming.

A few days ago, I heard a presidential candidate say that unless you have a billion pesos, you should forget about running for the highest office. I was especially piqued by this. While many people might hear that and immediately see the truth and practicality in the statement, I saw it and sneered at the arrogance of people who forget that David beat Goliath.

Time’s Man of the Year feature on Barack Obama pointed out that a little over a year before the US elections, there were only four people on Obama’s team when he told them he was going to run for President. It was definitely a long shot; the rest, as they say, is history.

These days, in the Philippines, there seems to be apathy and cynicism about change (or even the possibility of it) that runs deep. Most people seem to be intimidated by the apparently endless resources of those who are adept at operating in the “practical” and corrupt world of politics and power. The good and honest but poor candidate will not have a chance, many believe — so why even hope for change?

I continue to remind myself that often, being practical means that one must surrender his or her abilities to dream big and instead meander within the limited breadth of one’s own tiny vision. Sometimes, especially when so much of the future depends on it, one needs to be “impractical” and shoot for the moon. The challenge of idealism is to attempt to do it. Every sperm that got to fertilize an egg, every lotto winner, every wild and winning or groundbreaking idea went against the grain. And succeeded.

With so much hanging in the balance on the issue of global warming, the imploding economic situation, massive poverty and the unprecedented feeling of hopelessness all around, there’s a lot for the Don Quixotes of the world to get fired up about. Think about it: the unique insight here is that today, we have very little choice but to be bold and idealistic. To be safe and practical means eventual doom.

As Tony Blair put it at a discussion of world problems in Davos, “Idealism is the new realism.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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