Gerry ChidiacLongtime consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader recently said in a radio interview, “The only true aging is the loss of idealism.”

Nader, the man who changed the auto industry in the 1960s by publishing Unsafe at Any Speed, continues to be active and inspire others. His most recent book Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think illustrates how a small number of concerned citizens can make a tremendously positive impact.

Regardless of how one feels about Nader’s views, it can never be argued that he’s lost his idealism. Nader appears to have found the fountain of youth.

In our society, so many people fear growing old. But perhaps it’s not chronological age we need to be concerned about, it’s the loss of our idealism.

We’re all born with a purpose. We each have unique gifts, a unique perspective, a particular contribution to make. Consumerism tells us that we need to get and to have, but this can draw us away from our true purpose. Having more often leaves us feeling empty.

How do we then maintain our youthful idealism?

Nobel laureate Bob Dylan gives us this advice:

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.

May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.

May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young.

I recall singing and reciting this poem for my students early in my teaching career. I loved their joy, their goodness and their enthusiasm for life. I wanted to encourage them to stay that way and I hope they have.

In order to be an effective educator, however, I have to live what I teach so I maintain credibility. In doing so, I realize that Dylan is absolutely right. I have never stopped growing and seeking truth.

I’m fortunate to have chosen a profession that allows me to live my idealism. By encouraging and empowering young people through education, I’m living my dream. I also work among other professionals who share my vision. After more than 30 years of teaching, I have even more belief in the positive impact we can make on the world. I’ve seen, and continue to see, the result of our efforts in people’s lives.

But teaching is not the only profession. There are many others who appear ageless.

Jimmy Carter, for example, has been arguably the most dynamic former American president. Despite having left office in 1981, he and his wife Rosalynn continue to travel the world building homes with Habitat for Humanity. They’re also active in numerous other charitable endeavours.

The Dalai Lama continues to travel the world, despite being well beyond the age when most people retire, as he touches the lives of millions of people in his sojourn for peace.

These people may be exceptional but they’re far from the exception. When we look around, we notice that we’re surrounded by people who maintain their joy and idealism regardless of their age.

As health conditions and medical science continue to improve, more and more of us will live to advanced ages. It’s we who will decide, however, if we remain young.

When we embrace the sacredness of every day, using the gifts we’ve been given to change the lives of those around us for the better, when we remain true to ourselves and maintain our idealism, regardless of our age, we will stay forever young.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

idealism, fountain of youth

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