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Regaining idealism?

In to the Wind

February 14, 2012
By Mike Gilchrist , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Youthful innocence is in essence idealism. This lack of worldly experience or sophistication lets a child be a child, without all the encumbrances and cares of the adult. Those children without innocence, or who have lost their idealism prematurely, have not been allowed, for whatever reason, to just be a child.

I have been trying to think back and understand where in life I lost my innocence. I can't put my finger on a single episode, but think mostly it was an evolution of sorts.

It may have started when my older brother confided there really wasn't a Santa Claus, that our parents were the ones who placed presents under the tree. I remember mulling over that thought for a while before asking him if that meant the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny weren't real either. That day I broke from the earthly bonds of pure innocence, and started on my journey of self actualization, and a growing independence. What else did I believe that was not true?

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I think it interesting that a children's story gives us a metaphor for innocence we use to describe an innocent or gullible person. In the book Pollyanna, by Eleanor Hodgman Porter, we are introduced to Pollyanna Whittier. In the book, everyone is taken by her cheerful and infectious optimism. Pollyanna loses that innocence through some dark events, and spends a great deal of the story trying to regain her idealism not her innocence, as that can never be regained.

Of course a child is a Pollyanna. They put their faith in the wisdom and teachings of their protectors, usually their parents. We tell our kids little white lies to protect that innocence. Our kids believe us with that blind faith, like Pollyanna before she lost her innocence. In a normal life, that idealism is peeled away a layer at a time, not unlike peeling an onion. For some, it takes longer than others.

We adults expect our young to eventually grow out of their idealism. The thought is they will step out of their idealism and enter the real world. You know, get an education, get a job, buy a house, another car, and raise some children. The idea is that idealism is pointless and you have to succumb to cynicism instead.

But in actuality, is it idealistic to want to attend to the injustices in the world? There are those who have carried their idealism into adulthood and have dedicated their career and their lives to this work. Only by making your passion your avocation is this possible.

Don't get me wrong, I am not declaring I am one of these idealistic few-to the contrary-I am as hardscrabble cynical as they come But as I grow older, I see the benefit to holding on to a portion of that idealism, or perhaps attempting to regain just a little bit. Even if it is not your life's calling, in many little ways we CAN make a difference.

At 21 society looks to you to give up your idealism and join the real world. If you are 40, and still possess the same ideals, and in fact have made them part of your career, you are looked at with less scorn and perhaps considered something of a champion. If you've maintained the same convictions you had in your youth, and refuse to let them go, you might even be labeled a crusader.

I am toying with the idea of trying to regain some of my idealism. I don't know if it's entirely possible, but think that having a social conscience is a good idea. I know I will never be able to "save the world," as I thought in my adolescence, but it is priggish to stand idly by as you become aware of social injustice-perhaps again.

OK, that was perhaps a fleeting thought. I will cogitate on that for a while and elaborate at a future date; now, back to cynicism.


Here are some more random thoughts culled from my notes.

I think it is OK to be young and idealistic, but we seldom keep that idealism as we age. Besides, the windmills are winning!

Hello dear friend, you look very extinguished today!

I have a friend who likes to drive really fast. I'm thinking they needn't be concerned with their dangerously elevated cholesterol; do you?

If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked


I really am a multitasker. I can talk and piss people off at the same time!

Practice random acts of intelligence & senseless acts of self-control.

In a thousand years some archeologist will dig up a tanning bed and think we fried people for punishment.

How come when a cell phone has a low battery it still has enough juice to beep at you every minute for the next two hours?

How come the kids keep their phones on vibrate? How come they instantly know when they get a text, but habitually miss calls? Do they even listen to their voice mails?

If life seems too SOLEMN and gives you LEMONS instead of MELONS, you are probably just dyslexic, or think in anagrams.

It's very hard to see the whole picture when you're the one standing in the frame.

Do you think it runs in the family? Last summer when Peter (my youngest) and I were leaving the St. Louis Zoo, he started running towards the car yelling, "Run for your lives, they're loose!"

One good thing about being a man is we can open all of our own jars.

One thing I like about my pets is they never try to trap me with, "So, notice anything different?"

I believe the gene pool needs a little chlorine.

Not only did I fall out of my tree, but I think I hit every branch on the way down!

I think it is noble to have drunk from the fountain of knowledge. Unfortunately, many times I feel like I gargled, and then spit.

The wise person should be aware the light at the end of the tunnel may in fact be a NO EXIT sign, or an oncoming locomotive.

Every once in a while when writing I clap my hands twice in rapid succession. I've determined that idea light bulb above my head is hooked to a clapper. I tried this today. It didn't work.

Until next time--

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on "view all" next to "Local Columns."

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2012 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.



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