A Passionate Idealist Struggles to Exist in a Nonideal World

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1. How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Your response should address with some particularity your own wishes and how they relate to Chicago.

“Passion.” I wanted to start one of my essays with this word because it so describes me. I have a great passion for learning, for studying, for exploring. Because of this and because I believe the University of Chicago is such a university as would encourage my intellectual pursuit to learn more about the world of thoughts and ideas, I desire a place there.

Among my peers, I’ve always been very independent in my thinking. Relating on an emotional level with my friends would be quite easy for me as I’m a people-centered person. But I have few friends who can challenge me on an intellectual level. The majority of people in this world are after all too “kitschy” to think about serious things. So I have to accept being around groups of friends who cannot relate to this other side of me – this intellectual side that sees life as an exciting and continuously learning experience and that longs with great passion to talk about the important issues and needs that are facing the world.

Thus my desire to be part of what I believe will be a unique learning experience in the University of Chicago. I believe this deep desire of mine to be challenged intellectually can be fulfilled there. I believe Chicago encourages independent, out-of-the-box thinking.

In the online Princeton review of the University of Chicago, a Chicago student was quoted as saying that they exhibit “idealism” which causes them to “struggl[e] to exist in a nonideal world.” I totally understand this because I’m a very idealistic person. And because of that, I struggle. I struggle to find my place in a world that lacks ideals, passion and purpose.

To be independent in your thinking, to be passionate about your beliefs and to be idealistic in your worldview – these will all entail struggle. But that’s my life. And I believe that the University of Chicago desires such students.

2. Tell us about a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, music, paintings, artists, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed or add a category of your own.

Because I find myself such an idealistic person, recently I have been enjoying reading biographies of great heros like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi. Or maybe it is because I have been inspired by these heros through their biographies, that I am such an idealistic person. Whatever it is, I have a passion for social change. I have a passion to help the poor and oppressed and to correct injustice in the world. These are some of my ideals and reading books and biographies that expound on these ideals have always attracted me.

I love to read Henry David Thoreau. “Walden” epitomizes how I feel about the modern society and its crass materialism and consumerism. Like King and Ghandi, Thoreau lived out his beliefs. That to me is probably the defining quality of a great man.

Can I leave out the Shakespearean works – literary masterpieces that so enriches one’s reading experience and life as a whole by giving insight to human nature in all its complexities.

Modern Reformation magazine is my favorite Christian magazine. I am a Christian and this magazine always challenges me to view all I have learnt from a biblical and godly point of view.

Musically, I’m into jazz at the moment. I appreciate classical orchestral and choral music too. Sometimes a dose of sentimental pop music like “Wind beneath my Wings” or “Amigos Para Siempre” moves my heart. I’m after all a sentimental person. Because I’m learning the Spanish language – hoping to work in Latin America in future – and appreciate its culture, I have also been listening to Latin American and Spanish music of late.

Essay Option 4: In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose an untraditional or uncommon question of your own. The answer to your question should display your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, or sage, sensible woman or man, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago. Remember, this is about “adventurous inquiry.” Be sure that you actually use a question of your own.

Do you think it would be worth it to live your life as an idealist and dreamer knowing that this will entail suffering of one kind or another – whether it be ending up at the wrong end of public opinion or living an unbalanced personal life in terms of one’s social relationships?

I do think it would be worth it. Before I elaborate on why I think it would be worth it, I would like to share a bit on how I became an idealist and dreamer, as the reason for my positive answer to the question requires a background and a foundation.

Socrates famous saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living” is often quoted to point out the wisdom of examining one’s life and the futility and perhaps stupidity of living one’s life unexamined. I agree with him. Examining one’s life is a good thing. Too often people live such hurried lives that they have no time to scrutinize the deeper and underlying motivations and reasons for the things they do.

Take for example this quote describing a sewer’s life:

I dig the ditch to get the money to buy the food to get the strength to dig the ditch.

In other words, the life described here is a continuous repetition – a basically meaningless cycle. But that’s precisely how life is if we don’t take the step of examining the meaning and purpose of life. Many people live lives like that and they would do well to pass through the cataclysmic experience of examining their lives.

But examining one’s life, though a profitable thing to do, is not always pleasant. And I’ve found that out for myself.

You see, it isn’t long after one starts to examine one’s life that one becomes passionate about certain beliefs. One starts to see life’s purpose. One starts to find meaning in life. And one starts to dream big dreams. He/she starts to become idealistic.

Examining life resulted in me digging deep down beyond the surface and bringing to light the imperfections of the world. For me, it meant coming face to face with the fact that there are poor – dreadfully poor – people living outside the borders of my comfortable country Singapore. It meant confrontation with the injustice and oppression that people face daily around the world. This has moved me. It has caused me to dream of a better world and to help any way I can to make a difference for the better.

Examining my life gave me new lenses through which to see the world and to view life. It made an idealist and dreamer out of me.

But how can examining one’s life be unpleasant? Surely catching a vision and passionately holding on to beliefs can be a most meaningful experience. Thus, how can it be unpleasant?

I’ve found in my life that the unpleasantness stems from being so different from others, being so independent in thinking, being so politically incorrect. All this results in the dreadful “L” word – LONELINESS.

Living such a passionate and inspired life often wins admiration from others. I can be praised for my courage to believe in what I believe. But very seldom does it win understanding. More often, coupled with admiration by others for your courage to stand up for what you believe is condemnation or indifference by others towards your beliefs. Whether it be outright condemnation or the milder form of rejection shown by an attitude of indifference by others towards you, the results are the same: detachment of oneself from the mainstream, loneliness of the heart. You end up at the wrong end of public opinion and because of this, you suffer in your own personal relationships. People do not want to make friends with a weirdo who thinks so differently from them. They want to make friends with like-minded others.

So these are the negative consequences that all visionaries, idealists and dreamers have to bear. The awesome pain that a dreamer would feel cannot be underestimated. The pain has to do with social relationships and since no man is an island and we all thrive for acceptance and yearn for love, the pain is great.

So great a philosopher and examiner of life like Bertrand Russell could name “the longing for love” as one of the three overwhelmingly strong passions that have governed his life. Indeed the longing for love and acceptance is no small longing. Just a quick reflection of one’s life will help us understand this great need among all human beings.

An author put it accurately when he wrote that the creative dreamer, who is “seized by a powerful desire to mould the world according to his own image”, “ends up being maladjusted to life in some ways, especially in his relationships with his loved ones. He is so caught up in the pursuit of this personal mission in life that he is willing to sacrifice many things, including the possibility of a rounded personal existence on earth.”

That’s what dreamers and idealists face – the pain of loneliness. A pain which I feel quite often in my own life when I realize that not many think as I do, or understand me.

Is it worth it to carry on with these strong dreams? Ultimately I think that may be a wrong question to start with. For it isn’t about whether it is worth it or not to take the painful path of fulfilling one’s dream. That answer will depend on which one treasures more – the satisfaction and joy of fulfilled dreams or that of intimate social relationships. If I had to choose exclusively between the two, the emotional person I am, I’d probably opt for the latter.

But I think the correct question to be asked is “Can a person who has felt greatly from the bottom of his heart a dream, a vision, an ideal that ought to be pursued – can and will such a person give up his dreams upon facing the suffering that comes with fulfilling his dreams?” I think not. When you’re struck so deep with the burden of a dream to fulfill, you’re most likely predestined to a live a long life pursuing it.

You feel it deeply. And it moves you to action. That’s the end of the story.

I’m moved by great dreams to help the third world people – especially Latin Americans. And though I’ve suffered the pain of loneliness when my friends don’t understand me, I can’t but follow my dreams. And at the end of my life, whether this dream is fulfilled or not, I’d like this poem written on my grave:

I like you…
You feel life way down inside,
You have the courage to think
and the strength to get involved.
You are a dreamer…
and dreamers are too rare…
For few people believe
enough to dream.
(Linda S. Smith)

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