Thursday, October 27, 2005

A passage from Liberal Education & the Public Interest

"As students seek appropriate role models, they cannot do better than to emulate men and women who are idealists. Who are idealists? They are people who are inspired by an idea greater than themselves, who are driven by a moral imperative to imagine a world better than the one they found. They are people animated by principle, who dedicate their lives to fortifying the spirit and improving the lot of those on the brink of hopelessness. They are people who sail against the wind and persevere despite setbacks or ambiguous success.

Idealists are informed on political matters and involved in the civic life of their communities. They devote their energies to the debates that make wise and humane public policy, as all Athens did in the age o Pericles. Idealists care about those who need help and commit themselves to national service and to a lifetime of civic engagement. They care about the health and well-being of neighbors and strangers alike. They care about the legal rights of all, especially those without advocates. They care about the working poor who struggle to make their way and to preserve their families in a global economy of bewildering technological change. They care about children, who need the full support of society in order to achieve their potential.

Idealists remind us, by the way in which they advance the lives of others, that, as Matthew Arnold said, “Life is not a having and a getting, but a being and becoming.” And they invite us, through their generosity, to be open to the possibility that what they have been for us, we might be for others. Idealists are not mere dreamers. They are known by their deeds and by the pride and purpose that animate their altruism. They instruct us, by their example, in the best meaning of character. Idealists are not rare. But there are not enough of them, in this society or any other.


I have the feeling that many of us regard life as beginning, in the important sense, only after we pass some future milestone – after we have been graduated from college, or after we have settled into a prestigious job or a comfortable home or a proper marriage, or after we have achieved a measure of professional success or personal security. It is only then – several decades into middle age – that many people finally give themselves permission to live generously.

But life, of course, is not what happens after we pass some future milestone. Life is what we are doing now. And so the necessity of leading a life guided by ideals, a life that each of us is proud to lead, is present from the start and is always there. My message to students is that a life motivated by idealism promises the deepest kind of personal satisfaction. "

This is from the chapter Appraising Significant Lives from James O. Freedman’s Liberal Education & the Public Interest. (currently I am reading this book.)

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