Then I turned 21 and again he told me (this time with a tad more exasperation) that I'm too idealistic and that life will teach me what reality is all about. He said he was afraid that life will disappoint me when I grow up.
Now I'm in my late twenties, and I finally know what he was talking about. I find myself today wondering if there can indeed be true altruism. Is there a humanitarian organisation that places its role of alleviating poverty and human suffering above its own political and self-serving interests? Are there christians who are kind to strangers without the intention of converting them? Is there a profession that focuses solely on the cause that it serves and not the returns it can bring to the individual or the company?
Can a person be just plain and simple nice, honest and open, without the risk of being manipulated, used, betrayed and stabbed in the back?
What is left of the innocence we once grew up with if this is the reality of life? Is it not possible for grown up adults to still hold on to the child-like faith in humanity - that men are essentially good; that good is stronger than evil; that you can trust in people; that as long as your conscience is clear and you believe in what you do, life will reward you?
A wise friend once told me that idealism and maturity are not mutually exclusive. One can mature in life and still be idealistic. After all, what is life without ideals?
The greatest thinkers in the world held on to their ideals well into a ripe old age and even took them to the grave. Franklin Roosevelt was 51 when he became president of the United States and created the New Deal; Karl Marx believed till his last breath that the proletariat emancipation can happen through communism; Obama is 48 and believes that beyond all odds, America is ready for big Change.
I sometimes feel discouraged by the vileness of the human pride. I like to believe that we all start out with the best of intentions, but sometimes fall victim to our own success. With the success comes flattery, then the power and the bloated ego seeps in ever so insidiously that we don't even realise that we've completely lost focus of the cause.
I refuse to accept that this is the best I can get out of life, and I refuse to let life eat away my idealism. I have precious moments kept in my heart of perfect strangers helping to fix my trash-can scooter in India and not accept a single rupee from me; friends who were there to hold my hand through the darkest moments of my life; my cleaners who are untouchables spending their month's wages to buy me a crucifix for christmas...the list goes on
If anything, life's taught me to cling on to my ideals, live for them, because without them, life won't be worth living.