Seeing ideals in a practical light

Josh Kopelman tweeted a link to this in February and it’s been sitting in my Pocket ever since. Robert A. Heinlein’s “This I Believe,” written in 1952 and read posthumously by his wife Virginia when she accepted NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal in 1988 on his behalf:

“I am not going to talk about religious beliefs but about matters so obvious that it has gone out of style to mention them. I believe in my neighbors. I know their faults, and I know that their virtues far outweigh their faults. “Take Father Michael down our road a piece. I’m not of his creed, but I know that goodness and charity and lovingkindness shine in his daily actions. I believe in Father Mike. If I’m in trouble, I’ll go to him.” …

“I believe in my townspeople. You can know on any door in our town saying, ‘I’m hungry,’ and you will be fed. Our town is no exception. I’ve found the same ready charity everywhere. But for the one who says, ‘To heck with you – I got mine,’ there are a hundred, a thousand who will say, “Sure, pal, sit down.” …

“I believe in my fellow citizens. Our headlines are splashed with crime yet for every criminal there are 10,000 honest, decent, kindly men. If it were not so, no child would live to grow up. Business could not go on from day to day. Decency is not news. It is buried in the obituaries, but is a force stronger than crime. I believe in the patient gallentry of nurses and the tedious sacrifices of teachers. I believe in the unseen and unending fight against desperate odds that goes on quietly in almost every home in the land. …

“I believe that almost all politicians are honest. . .there are hundreds of politicians, low paid or not paid at all, doing their level best without thanks or glory to make our system work. If this were not true we would never have gotten past the 13 colonies.

I think this is great because it suggests that “idealism” happens when you reach a certain distance from the experience of the everyday sort of virtues Heinlein cites. So maybe criticism of “idealists” or just excessive cynicism is rooted in a lack of experience of everyday virtues.

Cynicism isn’t useful to anyone. I think it’s the earnest and hopeful who have more in common with the realists than the so-called hard-nosed cynics who pretend to know the way of things.

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