We all are idealists, only our ideals are different

Gabbar Singh in the film Sholay, said, rather roared, "Jo dar gaya , samjho woh mar gaya." Andrew Grove of Intel, said, "Only the paranoid survive." His paranoia included, for example, mistakenly hiring the wrong people. More than anything else, Grove was worried about ‘strategic inflection points’. It may signal the beginning of the end. In this debate, are you with Gabbar Singh or with Andrew Grove? Most probably you are with both. Both the arguments are right as well as wrong. Does independence abolish slavery? The answer is yes, as well as no. The more interesting idea would be to know whether our forefathers fought for independence or slavery.

Take the case of setting goals. Setting goals depends upon the objective of the goal. If we want to build a hospital to treat patients, we set rules accordingly. If our goal is to fill hospital beds, our approach is quite different. The point is, both goals are symbiotic. Filling hospital beds is not possible unless it has facilities to treat patients. Setting goals also has a dangerous side. People lie when they fall short of their goals. Goal setting constricts our thinking. Goals have a narrow focus and need too much attention. In the process, we overlook many other possibilities. "There are some words I try not to use, and idealist is one of them. That could mean someone who was hopelessly unrealistic or someone so enamoured of his ideas that he would not examine the opposite argument," says Amartya Sen.

It is not easy to hold on to our ideals. As we approach reality we tend to move away from ideality. We ask for advice but we expect approbation. We get upset when we don't find approbation. This dilemma is natural because of the mismatch in our priorities and values. We confront another kind of dilemma, retaining or ignoring our ideals. Like goal setting, our ideals work and also misfire. Our idealism takes the front or backseat, depending upon who is at the receiving end. A dilemma of this kind is difficult to resolve. Philip Kitcher suggests a way to deal with such tricky situations: "There are various ways to understand entropy. I shall follow the approach of classical thermodynamics, in which entropy is seen as a function of unusable energy. But the points I make will not be affected by this choice."

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© 2017 by Dr Purnendu Ghosh