The Issue of Idealism and the Importance of Maintaining a Grounded Reality

I have what people call an active imagination. I’m always thinking of the what were’s, what if’s, and what could’ve beens. It’s a helpful tool for writing fiction or creating concept art, but not much else. Let me explain.

One of the most prominent products of my active imagination are the stories I make up about strangers. I’m a highly introverted person who prefers people-watching to people-talking, so by default, I’m always making backstories for people I’ve never even met.

That lady at the grocery store? Yeah, she’s definitely on the run for attempted murder. That man at the bank? Well, he just lost his job but he’s having a hard time telling his wife.

"We suffer more often in imagination than in reality." Seneca

I can’t speak for others, but in my experience, this kind of thinking is initially pretty harmless. It’s fun to create a life you love (or hate) for someone, but I’m slowly realizing it can become harmful if taken too far.

I often do this with people I just met (or people I’ve known for a long time, but only on a surface level). I’ll start forming one conclusion about a person based on a single piece of shared information, and then from there, I’ll start building an entire case for their character.

I don’t really know why I do it. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it seems safer to keep others at a distance while building expectations and assumptions that aren’t supposed to fall through.

Only they do, and they will. And that’s why it’s so so important to be cognizant of romanticizing (or demonizing) a person before taking the time to truly get to know them. Idealizing people is a losing game. When you amplify a person to impossibly high standards you are ultimately setting both you and that person up for disappointment.

One of my favorite musicians, a band by the name of Waterparks, actually addresses this in one of their newest pop hits, “Dream Boy”. It’s about fan expectations and how easy it is for followers to idealize musicians into something they’re not.

“Build your expectations
Saturated and inflated
‘Cause I was born to be your favorite
Make me complicated
I’m modern and I’m dated
Because I was born to be your favorite”

The song addresses the subconscious character fans often compose in place of an artist. It goes into how satisfying it is to be able to “pick your pieces” and imagine somebody into something that feels familiar and safe. The song leaves more questions than answers, and in the end, it’s up to the listener to choose how to respond: you can either keep envisioning a person how you want to, or you can make a conscious effort to replace snap judgments and lofty ideals with cold, hard facts.

The latter definitely requires more work, but in the end, I think it’s ultimately what we owe ourselves and others. For me, it’s a constant, conscious, everyday choice. And the more I put it into practice the easier I hope it will get.

Now I want to hear your thoughts. Do you struggle with the issue of idealism? What are some tips and tricks you use to bring yourself back to reality? Let me know in the comments below!


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