“Ideals are like the stars. We never reach them but, like the mariners on the sea, we chart our course by them” (Carl Shurz).
IDEALS ARE IDEAS OF A PARTICULAR KIND. They are ideas about how we think things in the world ought to be — and how we want them to be. They are, as Shurz suggests, the “stars” by which we navigate: our principles, values, goals, standards, and aspirations.
Our ideals are very important, to say the least, and because they are important, they should be protected. From time to time, it is wise to reevaluate our ideals. Occasionally, we may need to change them or improve them. But once we have determined what our ideals are, we should refuse to give them up. Our ideals should never be for sale.
It’s a hard world, and all of us face situations in which we are tempted to sell out and compromise our ideals. But Charles R. Swindoll was right when he said, “Character is always lost when a high ideal is sacrificed on the altar of conformity and popularity.”
But in addition to guarding our ideals, we need to follow them. As our guiding “stars,” they won’t help us if we don’t steer by them. When we are making decisions, especially the big decisions in life, we need to pay less attention to the difficulties of the immediate moment and more attention to our ideals. “Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step: only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find his right road” (Dag Hammarskjöld). So our highest thoughts should be the ones that guide our decisions.
If it’s important to be mindful of our own ideals, then we should pay attention to the ideals of others as well. Specifically, we need to consider people’s ideals when we are forming our judgments or assessments of them. As Harold Nicolson said, “We are all inclined to judge ourselves by our ideals, but others, by their acts.” How much better it would be if, when we are forming judgments of our friends and loved ones, we took their ideals into account. They may have fallen short of their ideals (just as we have fallen short of ours), but that which they are striving for should count for something. The thing that matters is not only where a person is right now but where they desire to go.
“I love you for what you are, but I love you yet more for what you are going to be. I love you not so much for your realities as for your ideals” (Carl Sandburg).