Idealism Redux

I make no apologies for being an Idealist.

Of course, I have been criticized for it, as have many with shared values. We’ve been called naïve. We’ve been told that our Idealism is “unrealistic”. We’ve been told we need to “grow up”.

But I, for one, have a hard time equating the process of “growing up” with abandoning our dearest principles and rejecting our inclination to serve our fellow man. To my mind, Idealism means believing in something better than what we have, that we are capable of more. Believing that there are noble pursuits and goals that we should strive for, rather than accepting the status quo, which is so often marginalizing, self-serving, and oppressive. When we cease fighting for Idealism, we abandon the very things that makes us human: Compassion, Hope, Love. Shortly before her husband became the first African American President of the United States, Michelle Obama spoke eloquently about our “moral obligation to strive for America as it should be.” This is not an abstract concept or empty platitude; it is a call to action. It is a call many of us have heard and answered.

In responding to this call, we join many “grown up” Idealists throughout history. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an Idealist. He dreamt of a future where people of all skin colors lived in harmony, where discriminatory treatment was a thing of the past. I dare suggest he even dreamt of a day when a Black man could become President. Dr. King’s teacher, a brown-skinned Palestinian carpenter, was also an Idealist. Long ago, this woodworker-turned-itinerant preacher called us to love our neighbors, not to bully, degrade, reject, or strangle them in the noose of our own stubborn prejudices. Five hundred years before him, yet another Idealist, a nobleman of the Indian Shakya clan, called us to relieve humanity’s suffering by offering unconditional grace to our fellow beings, and to recognize our union with others, rather than our differences. Our capacity to care for others, regardless of personal cost or sacrifice, is an Ideal that has been promoted by countless saints of the past, prophets of today, and, God-willing, by the generations of tomorrow.

But right now, in this moment in America, we are struggling to hear this call. We have abandoned our national Idealism, erasing the “Ideal” in favor of a toxic nationalism that is wholly self-serving and absent of grace. And as those of us who persevere continue to push back against this tide of hate and callousness, we grow weary.  We find ourselves constantly having to redirect our brothers and sisters to freely available facts that have been drowned out by recycled fiction. We fend off allegations of ignorance while attempting to refocus the conversation on the many who need our help, rather than the few who exploit an already tragic situation. Even non-Christians are having to cite the most basic tenets of the faith to self-professed believers, who seem to have conveniently forgotten every word Jesus said.

It’s exhausting.

We are called to be better than this. We are called to care for the widow and the immigrant, to help the poor and treat everyone as our neighbor. Why do so many seem to believe that we are instead called to judge the many for the actions of the few, to disregard the basic human dignity possessed by all people, and to refuse to care for anyone but ourselves? Why do so many succumb to fear when the Book in which they claim to believe repeatedly demands that they “fear not”? And how does a simple truth like “black lives matter” elude so many? This phrase is not the “symbol of hate” our President would have us believe. As even staunch Republican Mitt Romney recently said, “I state the obvious, which is black lives matter.” It’s not rocket science; it’s an intuitive Truth. One that our President and Vice President and so many of their followers flagrantly refuse to concede. I find their reluctance to do so appalling.

I’m exhausted of being continually criticized for stating the obvious. I’m tired of the willful hypocrisy and the lack of common decency. I’m disgusted by the greed, insensitivity and hate. I’ve had enough of the accusations, finger-pointing, and demagoguery. If you aren’t willing to stand with the marginalized, then, for the love of God, please stand aside. Or better yet, take a seat. History is not on your side. You will fail. And we’re tired.

We’re tired of you. We have enough work ahead to change the systems of oppression that got us to where we are, that created people like you, and that bound us in complacency for so long before reaching this moment. We don’t need the added burden of dealing with your ignorance.

So, for all those in the back: Generosity is not weakness; selfishness is not strength. Benevolence and compassion are not “unrealistic” or “naïve”. They are the bedrock of our humanity. We are better than the individualism and selfishness that pervades our society today, and we must all learn to be Idealists if we want to have any hope of a better tomorrow.  Dr. King was right about the arc of the moral Universe bending toward Justice, but we’re the ones who have to stand up and bend it.

So if you are having trouble empathizing with our brothers and sisters of color, if you can’t quite wrap your mind around why claiming “All lives matter” might be considered offensive in the face of ongoing, systemic mistreatment of “Black lives”, if you fail to realize that wearing a mask in the middle of a pandemic has nothing whatsoever to do with your liberty, then I urge you to take a lesson from another wise sage:

It’s not about you.

Maybe, just maybe, you should stop and listen for a change.

And if you’re very lucky, in that space of silence, you just might be surprised to hear a still, small voice chanting the same mantra.

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