We expect a lot in life. It's not surprising, considering how much life has upped its game in the last fifty years—delicious fruits and vegetables are available all year round, our homes can be heated and cooled to our whimsy, and oh, the bliss that is indoor plumbing.
So we get rather annoyed when life is short of perfect. "What is up with this weather?" "What is up with this traffic?" "What is up with these taxes?"
David Brooks' "The Case for Low Ideals" cites the political realm, wherein lies all sorts of hope.
I’m here to make the case for low idealism. The low idealist rejects the politics of innocence. The low idealist recoils from any movement that promises “new beginnings,” tries to offer transcendent “bliss to be alive” moments or tries to fill people’s spiritual voids.
Low idealism begins with a sturdy and accurate view of human nature. We’re all a bit self-centered, self-interested and inclined to think we are nobler than we are. Montaigne wrote, “If others examined themselves attentively, as I do, they would find themselves, as I do, full of inanity and nonsense. Get rid of it I cannot without getting rid of myself.”
Brooks continues that politics is not about seeking a miracle cure. It is about careful maintenance and slow change. My favorite line:
Government in good times is merely dull; when it is enthralling, times are usually bad.
This view is applicable to many areas. Any lasting change is sedate, boring, and diligent in nature. Ideas that explode onto the scene swiftly fizzle out; low flames can burn steadily with small amounts of fuel. Starting small—smiling more, considering another person's perspective, taking a moment to double check an almost spoken word or almost sent text—can yield deep, meaningful alterations upon our minds and souls.
The low idealist . . . likes the person who speaks only after paying minute attention to the way things really are, and whose proposals are grounded in the low stability of the truth.
There is nothing new under the sun. It is not by reinventing the wheel that we can be better people, but by putting the basics into practice.
The low idealist is more romantic about the past than about the future.