Idealism versus realism

Struggling to have integrity

By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor

Working for a newspaper, I write from week to week about things that frustrate me. Because I’m rather idealistic, I frequently write about the horrible, horrid world we live in and why people ought to be more morally-minded. I’ve ranted and railed against ambivalence, sweatshops, bug-killing, and able-bodied people who use the handicap button to open doors.

I really screwed myself over.

To explain: during the Korean War, some captured US soldiers were sent to prisoner of war camps in China. At the camps, prisoners would be asked to make mildly anti-American statements like, “The United States is not perfect.” Gradually, the prisoners would be asked to explain exactly how the United States wasn’t perfect, and would later write an essay on how America was imperfect. The men would begin to change their beliefs to be consistent with what they’d written.

[quote]I’ve set myself some pretty high standards that I have to struggle to meet. Or at the very least, pout and sulk through meeting. [/quote]

No, I’m not in a prisoner of war camp, and I’m not being brainwashed. Instead, I’ve set myself some pretty high standards that I have to struggle to meet. Or at the very least, pout and sulk through meeting. By publishing these idealistic beliefs—even if I do believe them—I’ve set myself up for hypocrisy.

I’m not trying to sound all “Woe is me;” I know leaving bugs alone and depriving myself of making certain purchases isn’t a hardship. But I feel guilty and wasteful if I drive anywhere, even though I walk pretty much everywhere. I won’t even get into the remorse I felt when, attempting to avoid the culpability of buying sweatshop products, I accidentally bought leather shoes from a secondhand store. When I started on my no-killing-bugs frenzy, I encountered the flaw to my plans—a fly in the ointment, if you will. I tried to catch-and-release a fly that was perched on a window by using the old paper and cup attack. Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account the fact that I have terrible aim and hand-eye coordination. Pathetic as it is, I somehow managed to hit the fly with the edge of the cup, effectively killing it via dismemberment. This all led to a downward spiral of “Dammit, I’m Lenny from Of Mice and Men,” but it also led to a disproportionate amount of guilt.

While I haven’t been brainwashed into thinking or acting a certain way, I worry someone’s going to catch me lacking integrity. And I’ve begun to think this manic high horsed-ness isn’t so much with the healthy—the altitude alone is a lot to deal with.

You can’t take on all the world’s issues. Yes, if you have a way to make the world a slightly better place, you should. This isn’t a free pass to leave all the lights on in your home, drive out to Newfoundland, and club some baby seals while sporting a suit of leather. Instead, I’m suggesting that it isn’t healthy to obsess over being a decent human being all the time. Of course it’s important to strive to be a good person, but there’s a whole lot of bad out there; it doesn’t make sense to take the blame for it all.