Ah, ideals! Pink and fluffy, lovely and sweet are our dreams and aspirations. The reality of dreams realized, however, often tells a different story, tales of failure, compromise and uneasy accommodation with harsh reality. And so we keep dreaming and striving, falling flat on our kissers, getting up, dusting ourselves off and gamely continuing to push our boulders up that hill. So, in the wake of Earth Day, that most idealistic of invented holidays, consider:

THE IDEAL: Earth Day. THE REALITY: Love Canal, Lake Erie, Mumbai, Chernobyl, New Jersey, strip mines, vanishing forests, acid rain…

THE IDEAL: Humane behavior. THE REALITY: Human behavior

THE IDEAL: The internet, a worldwide unifying web providing vast amounts of information, instant communication and an understanding between disparate peoples and societies. THE REALITY: Twitter.

THE IDEAL: The Olympics, an international sporting competition involving the world’s top athletes in a showcase of skill, speed, strength and grace. THE REALITY: Synchronized swimming, skiing while shooting a rifle and athletes of indeterminate gender on steroids.

THE IDEAL: Reality TV, celebrating the lives of ordinary people. THE REALITY: The waking nightmare that is Reality TV.

THE IDEAL: The United Nations, keeper of world peace, arbiter of international misunderstandings and champion of the world’s poor and underprivileged. THE REALITY: The United Nations, serial rebukers, spineless hand-wringers and squabbling adult children with no power and few good intentions. They have, however, cornered the market on strongly worded proclamations.

THE IDEAL: America. THE REALITY: President Obama with a giant mop and bucket trying to clean up the raw sewage left behind by Bush The Younger, Shotgun Dick Cheney, Rummy Rumsfeld, Brownie and ten thousand thieving corporate princes.

THE IDEAL: Religion, source of spiritual comfort, love, harmony and peace. THE REALITY: Religion, a handy excuse for hatred and slaughter with an invisible God to blame.

THE IDEAL: Green living. THE REALITY: Unreliable low-wattage light bulbs filled with mercury, Sports Utility Vehicles with giant V-8 engines, 40% of the world’s electricity produced by burning coal.

THE IDEAL: Medical research and the alleviation of mankind’s torment from devastating diseases. THE REALITY: Oxycontin, HMOs and phony attention-related syndromes.

THE IDEAL: The Year of The Child. THE REALITY: 12 million children dying every year from starvation and unsanitary water-related diseases.

THE IDEAL: The Asian Century.  THE REALITY: China and India being divided between educated, prosperous, healthy people and hundreds of millions of wretchedly poor illiterates living in The Bronze Age (see The Year of the Child).

THE IDEAL: A global economy. THE REALITY: Half the world’s 6 billion people still living in extreme poverty.

THE IDEAL: The end of Colonialism. THE REALITY: Tribalism, corruption, tyranny and genocide.

THE IDEAL: Universal equality. THE REALITY: Proposition 8, legally denying 5% of American citizens residing in California the right to marry.

THE IDEAL: American Idol. THE REALITY: Simon The Cruel.

And so it goes. Life has a way of letting us know that our ideals and reality rarely match. That gives us plenty to shoot for, and shows us we’ve got a lot of work to do. Which is just fine since people seem to be made for two things; to dream and to work. The trick we’re always trying to figure out is how to get these two functions to work together. As a race of beings, we humans have made a lot of dreams come true and come a very long way, but reality tells us not to get too giddy and get back to work. There’s miles to go before we sleep.

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