The other day I posted about turning New York into “one big vacation” by reducing the traffic that make our streets dangerous and our air filthy, making the rivers swimable, building more parks and planting more trees. A couple of commenters responded by saying that I should be realistic.
I am not realistic. I never want to be realistic. God save us all from realism, especially if it means we have to limit our vision for the world.
Most of us love our children and want to be polite to our neighbors. Most of us, unless we are diseased by terrible living conditions or alcohol or drugs, would rather give than steal. Most of us, in our hearts, want peace and harmony for ourselves and for the rest of the world. Most of us, too, believe that we should take good care of the planet, just because it is the right thing to do. In other words, in the depths of our hearts, most of us are not “realistic.”
When I was child, and I first heard of war, I was appalled. My mother had taught me hitting was wrong. I categorically understood that people should not hurt each other. Then I grew up and I became realistic. Peace, feeding the hungry, a healthy planet, an end to war, these things just aren’t realistically possible, a mature mind understands. Well, when it comes to these things, I’ve been both an idealistic child and a realistic grownup, and I think I was a better person when I was an idealistic child.
I believe in the goodness of human nature. I believe we can get distracted by many things, but that, ultimately, we all want to do what is best. Because that is true of people, I believe we can make the planet better for all of us, that we can have peace, feed the hungry and end war.
I believe too that every action each of us takes makes a difference. Every time each of us rejects a disposable bag brings the world one step closer to being the kind of place where sea turtles don’t die from eating plastic. Every time each of us sacrifices a car ride brings us the world one step closer to being the kind of place where there is no global warming. Every time one of us tithes our income brings us one step closer to ending world poverty. Every time one of us calls a member of congress brings our representatives one step closer to caring more about voters than campaign contributors.
Perhaps people will think I’m too optimistic. But this is for certain: these things can’t be true if no one takes the chance of believing they’re true. Because if we don’t believe they are true, we won’t act as though they’re true. And if we don’t act as though they’re true, they can’t come true. That’s why realism does little but protect the status quo.
Being optimistic, on the other hand, is the most radical political act there is.