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Don't "Be Realistic" - Be Real

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There is a single piece of advice I have heard throughout my life more than any other. It is a principle as pointless as its parrots are pervasive; a parameter that should never have surpassed its sarcastic conceptions:

“But, let’s be realistic.” –Gail Collins, “Blue State Blues”

I have been dealt this pessimistic mantra over the course of almost every endeavor I have pursued. While I do not doubt the virtuous intentions of its innumerable advocates, my refusal to listen that has proved far more rewarding,

The unrelenting reservoir of realism’s representatives made their most memorable rounds during the second half of my sophomore year, when I decided to run for Student Government. Though the same faction of kids had dominated the council since my first days of high school, I believed that I could offer something new to the committee. Specifically, I was concerned with our school’s iPod regulations - the music devices could not be on during any part of the school day. While classroom prohibitions were certainly understandable, I was determined to permit the devices during the sound hours of lunch, study hall, and passing. Though certainly not a “change” of presidential proportions, a revised electronic school policy was nevertheless change - and a plausible one, at that.

My closest friends begged to differ. Armed with criticisms ranging from “You won’t do anything,” to “It’s a popularity contest,” to (of course) “Be realistic,” they weren’t hesitant to voice their concerns about a potential dive into distress. True, our school’s Student Government has never been known for its efficiency - though the assembly had devoted much of the previous year to reforming school dance policy, their efforts had proven futile. Nevertheless, I persuaded my friends to help me campaign; convinced the student body to vote for me.. and won the election.

Throughout my first semester ‘in office,’ I made a point to meet with every member of the administration who could help me fulfill my promise. In between the principal, deans, teachers, and staff members, the process was exhaustive – and though some were strongly opposed, others were supportive.

Most, however, didn’t care.

Even so, the virtual dearth of dissent did not deter each teacher I spoke to from expressing his or her doubts about the majority’s perceived opinion:

“I personally think iPods are great,” my AP United States History teacher explained. “But what about the science department?”

“Sure, I don’t mind,” my AP Biology teacher agreed. “But what about the math department?”

Even Mr. Calculus agreed, ”That’s fantastic!”

…With all of it: “But, please be realistic. This school has a very diverse educational community. I doubt the foreign language department will be feliz.”

Like the geometric sequences we had just spent a week learning about, the pattern just wouldn’t end. Fortunately, it was soon settled that a faculty-wide vote would cut the confusion. By the first day of second semester, the verdict was in - and with it, a ‘trial period’ of iPod allowance. The administration even created “iPod Zone” lunchroom signs to remind students about areas for permitted iPod use. At the beginning of my senior year, the adjustment was inscribed onto page 136 of the school rulebook, permitting the devices in all areas except classrooms. Student Government? iPods? I guess I was being realistic, after all.

What is “realistic,” anyway? Is it to retract from those opportunities that are our greatest challenges, or is to attack them with full force, and never look back? It is inherently “realistic” to recant from those events that guide us towards a gamble. By backing down, we author the self-fulfilling prophesy of our own demise.

Despite my triumph over ‘realism’ in high school, the arena itself is perhaps the most meager of pessimistic populations. Armed with reality, I aim to dissolve realism not just in my high school classroom, but in colleges, courtrooms, and communities worldwide. Was Franklin Delano Roosevelt “realistic” to challenge the 25% unemployment rate during the Great Depression? Were the United Nations “realistic” to unite the world’s nations into a single forum? The United States of America certainly wasn’t “realistic” to strive to send a man to the moon. Yet, “realistic” or not, these were all realities. They show that inhibition mustn’t always forecast the future - the option to be a “realistic” failure will never disappear.

“I have given this a lot of thought, and I think our best immediate course of action is to whine a lot.” –Gail Collins, “Blue State Blues”

But, I have a better idea: let’s not be realistic. Let’s not be whiners. Let’s just be real.



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