“Idealist” has become a dirty word and that is a sad sign of the times. Sadder still is how I’m so quick to reject its label and ball-and-chain implication. When someone says to me, “You’re an idealist!”, I know they mean no offense, but I deny it all the same, three times before the rooster crows.
Let’s face it, the prime real estate in this day and age can only be found in the domain of practicality, reason, and quantitative rigor: What is measurable and logical? What type of investment portfolio is wise and responsible? And that’s all well and good in the world of personal finance but lately, we find that this robotic calculation is seeping into all phases of our lives, from our careers to our relationships, from office space to the bedroom and to the way we raise our kids and think about sex and our faith, democracy, free markets, etc. Even our artists have moved from a patronage system to one of corporate sponsorship.
Maybe it’s inevitable as the world marches on from agrarian decrepitude to metropolitan chic and efficiency. In human history, whole societies and cultures were laid to waste in the name of progress. But never has an enduring ideology like hope taken such a brutal assault from a normally adoring human electorate.
Historically, Hollywood has loved hope. It gave us movies like Rudy, Rocky, and Die Hard. The first movie to question hope (in my memory) was The Shawshank Redemption. I remember thinking that Red made a more than valid point:
Red: Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You’d better get used to that idea.
Of course, in the end, Shawshank was about the triumph of hope as two grown men bear hug on a sandy Mexican beach to Morgan Freeman’s soothing exit narrative, I hope…I hope…
He whispers it over and over, and that’s what it’s become in Hollywood now…nothing but a whisper. You just can’t trumpet hope anymore and expect people to take you seriously.
Make no mistake about it friends, the idea of hope is being persecuted. Its disciples are being branded as inefficient, spineless, and worst…naïve.
If this bothers you, as it does for me, you have to be willing to be a martyr for its sake. Red was right, hope is a dangerous thing. Because like all good things, hope has a trade-off, and a pretty steep one at that. It’s called disappointment.
But let me also remind you that realism and its minions have a trade-off too: regret. You live life cautiously and to minimize risk (the so-called smart way to live) and you just might regret not travelling the world when you had the chance, or not pursuing “the girl” you always wanted, or not writing that book you always knew you had inside you.
At this point, it would be false of me to present this issue as one or the other. We all live with a mix of idealism and practicality, and as it goes, we live in such a way as to invite disappointment in some areas of our lives, and to have regret in others. We hedge our bets in the hope of something, and settle when it becomes the reasonable thing to do. We all do that.
But I also believe that we bend our lives more in one way over the other. Clearly, the battle between hope and caution is being won by the latter, but what if the question was framed differently?
Would you rather be full of disappointment or full of regret?
Regret is a slippery stick of soap; we’ve become quite adept at masking it over with a false sense of satisfaction. “Ok, I may not be that best-selling author I always wanted to be, but at least I’m pulling a decent wage at my law firm.” That sort of thing.
Meanwhile, there’s no diluting disappointment. In a culture where we always get what we want, not getting something is almost unbearable for us. Its poignancy is in stark contrast to the dull thud of regret.
But what is it about disappointment that makes it so much more palatable to me than regret?
I’m too young to know what death is, but I imagine that on my deathbed, hopefully years from now, I’ll look back on my life and think of the things that brought me joy and the things I wish I’d done differently, in other words, my regrets. It would be hard in that moment to recall my disappointments.
My point is that regret, while not as sharp or acidic as disappointment, has a tendency to linger and then to fester. But somehow, we’ve learned to invite regret into our lives as an acceptable cost of living. But disappointment? We continue to eschew it for all its immediate dissatisfaction.
I don’t know. This all may be a stretch, but something about that sounds right to me. Do what makes you happy. Love fully and without expectation. Live life without regret. Hope soars. Mantras that make us scoff, ones you would only find on cheesy inspiration posters.
But they might just have something useful to teach us after all.
Red would put it a bit more poetically:
Red: Get busy living or get busy dying.
That’s goddamn right.