Realist, idealist, opportunist and the person in between

Santanu Borah

I have been branded an idealist as well as a realist during the course of my life. Often these labels come as accusations riding on the back of civil language, and the only thing maintained is decorum.

I have defended myself as an idealist. I   have also resolved to remain an avowed realist, especially in the company of idealists. So, the corollary is that I must be a centrist, a glorified fence-sitter. However, I never sit on the fence because of complaints from my derriere, that it’s uncomfortable and requires an inordinately acute sense of balance. Besides, it is easier said than done because you get caught in the crossfire that ensues in the battle between the idealists and the realists.

The thing that irritates the idealist the most is that s/he knows that they are being idealistic. The air around them is stagnant with possibilities. They can imagine a situation where there is no heaven, hell or religion without batting an eyelid.
A realist is an idealist in exile. Almost all realists have internalised the collapse of reason around them with such amiable ferocity that they fail to see it doesn’t have to be that way. In their idealistic attitude towards being a realist, they develop the dreaded I-Told-You-So syndrome and suffer terminally. Show them a rare orchid and they will wonder about the pesticide level in every petal. And why are they like that? Because they believe that a flower without pesticide, the perfect blossom (and not in a Hegelian sense), can be grown even today, no matter how idealistic it might sound.

Once you get past the idealist and the realist, the problem actually starts. You face the human condition – a tragicomic theatre of the unknowable. Here, idealism and realism melt into a gooey substance that can be stretched and moulded. It’s impervious to reason as well as unreason. Wars exist with carnivals with the same voracious appetite. Pimps walk with presidents. Love and hate are married. It’s all a divine mess, while God is still to find Itself.

In the midst of this incomprehensible duality, throw in all the average events around you and you have a multi-course meal of what life would taste like, if it were served in a restaurant, without anyone knowing which course is the dessert.

Idealism and realism are just two points in a debate nourished by uncertainty and confusion. In fact, if there is a war, the realist and the idealist might fight it together for entirely different reasons. It so happens that, as realists and idealists engage with the world, life chips away at their belief systems and turns most of them into the opportunist they so detest. Everyone wants to catch some fish while they can. Call it carpe diem.

The world is an agreeable place when you know with equal certainty that it is grand as well as petty. That it lives out our lives through its histories and dreams. It puts the idealists and the realists together to watch the fun, so it can feel alive. It uses them to write a symphony of life as seen through the eyes of the world’s most advanced ape – Man. In short, we function beyond the ‘isms’, but we need an anchor to hold on to. It is unrealistic to have pure freedom, and at the same time it is idealistic to want it all.

Among the idealists, you find a large number of people who practice positive thinking, often espoused by gurus of various hues of sameness. They are the saddest lot. It’s painful to hear tacky stuff like, “Have a positive outlook and everything will be fine. The universe will conspire to get the good things for you.” Read that again and see how silly it sounds. First of all, it’s wrong to attribute your lazy values, hopes, fears etc., to the Universe. The Universe does not conspire nor does it love or hate. It is in perpetual transcendence. You’re a part of the Universe, a tiny sub-cell in its skin. Now, do you conspire to make everything good for one particular cell in your, say, armpit? You will rarely catch yourself thinking this way: “Hey, that cell in the upper right corner of my sweaty armpit is buzzing with divinity!”

Many positive thinking spiritualists might feel this way: “This guy has no idea how one cell is all it takes, and in it, the entire universe manifests itself. He should know its all love. Can’t he feel the vibes?” The rationalist in me feels there is no such thing. Energy is one big soup and it has no morals. The vibes you feel are your own, a creation of your thoughts. You define the energy. The energy itself is neutral. The bad vibe is your responsibility. Existence does not follow your rules. Those are just human qualities poetically superimposed on “innocent energy” and culturally propagated. Those frequencies are interpretations of your mental map. If it is all Creation, then hate has an equal claim on it.

Frankly, I don’t bother with popular aphorisms about positive thinking. In fact, it draws out the realist in me. But that does not mean I live in a brooding post-suicidal state either that the chronic realist wants to walk me through. I am too idealistic for that. If a realist tells me it’s just all a mess, my first response is that you clean it all because only the mess-maker knows the last unknown corners to clean. The realist is hindered by his refusal to dream, just as the idealist is hindered by his desire to dream. In effect, they are the same people reflecting each other with immaculate fidelity. I will be honest that most times I tend to lean towards the realist in me, but I know that in order to be sharp I need the counsel of my idealistic self. What I have noticed is that the idealist wins the big battles, the main idea favours them, like there should be no female foeticide. However, to make this dream a reality, you will need the counsel of the realists, who are often also the strategists.

Realism and idealism are doppelgangers of each other. It’s the opportunities you get to use them that matter. You can’t be any one thing, simply because the world is both a dream and a nightmare and you are a ghost living in contradictions.

(Santanu Borah writes, paints and procrastinates at leisure. He can be reached at

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