The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
The man of real progress is always mentally, just a little ahead of where he is now. The idealist, the man of real imagination, seizes upon the present fact, and transforms it mentally into what it may be in the future, and projects it before him. Such a man is the really practical man. – Henry Williams
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. – Eleanor Roosevelt
Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly. – Langston Hughes
Here’s one way to define the difference between idealists and realists—idealists still have dreams, and realists used to.
Do you dream of what might be? Or have you forgotten your dreams, and let them fade away?
Life, as we all know all too well, can kill our dreams with grim efficiency. The grinding reality of living—of just surviving in this harsh world—often pounds our dreams into dust.
But that presents a real problem. When our dreams die, our souls follow. Without dreams, we run the risk of losing our life force, the very thing that keeps us inspired and invigorated and makes us happy.
So here’s a suggestion: find a few of the happiest people you know, the ones with the most enthusiasm and passion for life, and ask them about their goals, their dreams, their hopes. You’ll soon find that those intangible engines of hope keep them going, focused faithfully on the future and oriented toward the achievement of their inner goals. Idealists have dreams, and their dreams, whether realized or not, give them hope and inspiration.
Then find a couple of people you know who seem unhappy, and ask them about their goals. You’ll discover, I’ll wager, a distinct lack of orientation toward the future. Realists, sadly, have often let their dreams die, the victims of a defeated pragmatism, and have limited their horizons severely.
Idealists head for far horizons; while realists watch the next step carefully, afraid to stumble and fall.
Yes, I know, this kind of thing can sound a lot like a bad corporate motivational poster. You’ve seen the ones I’m talking about: “Fly on wings of eagles!” But instead of suggesting that you become an idealist solely because of some sappy slogan, I want to point out another big difference between idealists and realists—their relative levels of happiness.
You may notice, after talking to the happiest and least happy people you know, that those who identify themselves as realists or pessimists distinctly seem less happy, less healthy, and have much less appreciation for life’s beauty. On the other hand, people who consider themselves idealistic or optimistic often seem brighter, more joyous and generally happier. Research backs this up: realists are much more prone to depression and deep sadness; while idealists tend to live happier lives.
So if idealism can significantly improve your life, then doesn’t it make sense to adopt a set of noble ideals and strive toward them? You don’t have to give up your commitment to clear-eyed realism to find those ideals—you just have to search for them, and find a set of ideals you can wholeheartedly support and pursue. That’s what drives out cynicism—real, tangible, altruistic ideals put into practice.
True religion exists for exactly that reason—to realistically inspire us toward high ideals and altruistic goals:
Two calls to success and prosperity are being raised from the heights of the happiness of mankind, awakening the slumbering, granting sight to the blind, causing the heedless to become mindful, bestowing hearing upon the deaf, unloosing the tongue of the mute and resuscitating the dead.
The one is the call of civilization, of the progress of the material world. This pertaineth to the world of phenomena, promoteth the principles of material achievement, and is the trainer for the physical accomplishments of mankind. It compriseth the laws, regulations, arts and sciences through which the world of humanity hath developed; laws and regulations which are the outcome of lofty ideals and the result of sound minds, and which have stepped forth into the arena of existence through the efforts of the wise and cultured in past and subsequent ages. The propagator and executive power of this call is just government.
The other is the soul-stirring call of God, Whose spiritual teachings are safeguards of the everlasting glory, the eternal happiness and illumination of the world of humanity, and cause attributes of mercy to be revealed in the human world and the life beyond.
This second call is founded upon the instructions and exhortations of the Lord and the admonitions and altruistic emotions belonging to the realm of morality which, like unto a brilliant light, brighten and illumine the lamp of the realities of mankind. Its penetrative power is the Word of God.
However, until material achievements, physical accomplishments and human virtues are reinforced by spiritual perfections, luminous qualities and characteristics of mercy, no fruit or result shall issue therefrom, nor will the happiness of the world of humanity, which is the ultimate aim, be attained. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 283-284.