Idealism and sensitivity are incompatible

bottle cap

This little proverb was inside the cap on a bottle of Honest Tea. Reiterations of the sentiment are everywhere. On his blog recently, my teenage nephew Dan made a good case for seizing the day. I’m a believer. I want to believe. One or the other.

Insidiously, sensitivity gets in the way of idealism. Worry―about financial repercussions, about alienating people, about how to respond to inevitable criticism―paralyzes even an ardent optimist. Allies might vanish. Funding could become unavailable. People who matter most might be unappreciative. The dream can start to seem foolish.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his new book, Outliers, argues that adversity can force people in the direction of opportunities they might not otherwise have found. Obstruct their dreams, and people sometimes benefit from the creativity or strength they engage to get past roadblocks. (To read a refreshing interview with Gladwell, click over to Goodreads.) An advantage in life can be gained by taking opportunities that accompany unanticipated changes. To put it another way, agility is a survival mechanism.

My nephew Dan deduced that we usually manage to make the best of things, even when our choices are foolish ones. Arriving at a slightly different conclusion, Dan Gilbert, the author of Stumbling on Happiness, explains that studies show we believe we’re happy with our choices, even when our rationales are clearly wrong. We’re naturally inclined to feel self-satisfied. Who hasn’t observed that ironic psychological phenomenon?

Conclusion: Life was never supposed to be easy.

One Reply to “Idealism and sensitivity are incompatible”

  1. I used to have a secondary line on my blog to this extent–writing about the adventures of where I landed, even under regret. This post reminded me of that.

    I tend to be a person who looks at the world in wonder–still walking through the steel and glass giants of downtown San Francisco and looking up in awe, still watching birds, still hearing music and adding it because it rang in with me somewhere. Socrates stated something once to the effect that if you possess wonder you have a degree of wisdom unfound elsewhere, and that thought gave me hope, too. Optimism shouldn’t have to be for the simple–for my mother it was a well-practiced higher intelligence.

    Wonderful post, Robin… :)

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