The Triumph of Idealism | Inspirational Podcast

Podcast Transcript: Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast, brought to you in part by Book of Zen, makers of wearable inspiration for a better world. Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from the essay How to Fight the Battles of Life, By CARL HILTY, published in 1903…

MANY people in our day and age, even well-intentioned people, have lost their faith in idealism. They regard it as something we outgrow after college, and something of little use in later life. Theoretically, they say, idealism has much to commend it, but, practically, things turn out to be brutally material. These individuals thus divide life into two parts: one where we may indulge ourselves in high-minded theories and sentiments, and, indeed, are to be encouraged in them; and the other where we wake rudely from this dream and deal with reality as best we can.

This isn’t anything new. During the 1700s, the philosopher Immanuel Kant dealt with this common defeatist attitude. He showed that the familiar expression: “That may be well enough in theory, but does not work in practice” expressed an absurd contradiction unworthy of a thinking, moral person.

The logical realism of our day, however, is not concerned with theoretical propositions. It turns, on the contrary, to the hard fact of the struggle for existence, in which indifference to others and absolute self-interest are not only permissible, but, as one looks at the real conditions of life, seem more or less demanded.

These modern realists say: “The world we see about us is one where only a few can succeed and where many must fail. There are not enough good things for all.” The question is thus not whether such a state of things is right or just. On the contrary, we are supposed to accept that we live in a hard, unreasonable, unjust universe. And that it is useless for the individual to try to change it. Our only goal is to make certain that in such a universe we are the hammer, and not the nail.

Such is the essence of that worldly wisdom which many people hold today. With it disappears, of course, any need of moral or spiritual education. Such instruction in schools might as well be abandoned—and indeed most of it has been.

In our current society, young people are expected grow clever and practical, while being trained to get and to keep. They are free from every sentiment of honor which might be a hindrance in their path. Most of them lose their physical, intellectual, and moral vigor early in life, while older folks lament, perhaps too late, that their youth had been sacrificed to that which was not worth their seeking—their possessions having become the source of stress and unhappiness rather than comfort and joy.

So, let’s get back to idealism. What is this thing we have sacrificed for the sake of being (quote) “practical and reasonable?” Idealism, as I understand it, is a form of faith, an inward conviction. It is absolutely necessary for the permanence of the world; yet it never can be proved true, and indeed for those who have it, needs no proof.

Further, no one becomes an idealist by being taught about it or by reasoning concerning it. This is not so strange as it might seem, for the very trustworthiness of human reason is proved to us only by experience. That which has power must have reality. No other proof of reality is final. Even our senses could not convince us, if our experience (and the experience of all other people) did not assure us that we could, under normal conditions, trust them not to deceive.

That which brings conviction to you is your experience, and that which rouses in you the desire and commitment to believe in your own experience is the testimony of others who have had that experience themselves.

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