In America we are all about ideals. Everyone should be treated equally. Teenagers should practice abstinence. Every country should have a shot at democratic government. This is fine, without ideals like this, where would we find the drive to change things, to improve. Visions of how we think things should be drive progress. It can be dangerous, however, when one becomes so focused on ideals and how things should be that you become unable to function in reality.
One of the many reasons I think people join Peace Corps is to see the real world. It's a chance to get a taste of how things are outside of the US. When we leave for our respective host countries we have to accept that while it's important to hold to our ideals...we will be disappointed, again and again and again. Nothing out here is the way it should be, according to my western values. Even aside from the big things like human rights, or corruption, there are many simple concepts of business or communication that just aren't here and make life more inconvenient.
One such problem is that of change. No body here ever has any change. More than once I have gotten out of a taxi and tried to pay my 200 fcfa fair with a 1000 bill or even just a 500 coin and the cab driver simply has no change. This is not his problem. It is my problem. If I want change back, I have to now wander up to random vendors (if there are any nearby) and get change, or else just eat the difference. Some taxi drivers will accept the loss of 50 fcfa or something if you don't have enough small change, but most will make you break a large bill.
This would not fly in America. But that's the way it is here and so I accept it. I don't like it, but I move on. On the other hand, I observe people who are too locked into the mindset of how things should be. Most of the time their ideas are perfectly logical and reasonable, such as having enough change before your start your day as a cab driver. But when it doesn't work that way it just drives them up a wall. And little things like this add up until they just break down and can't deal with anything anymore.
This is just one example of not seeing the way things really are for being hung up on ideals. Another prime example i think is our president, George W. Bush. He is so focused on his mission of establishing democracy in Iraq (because democracy is the ideal government and so everyone should want and have it), that he blinds himself to the real situation. He doesn't want to hear about another list of casualties, or another platoon forced to retreat, let alone the idea that maybe the people don't want our form of government. Inconceivable!
It's the same thing with the restrictions on sex ed. Yes we should preach abstinence, but we should also be aware of how the world is and what teens are doing and address that as well. My point is that while it is good to have an idea of how things should work, you still have to work within the structure of how things really are. You cannot change the system by ignoring it. You cannot win a game by completely ignoring the rules. If you do that you are no longer playing the game and thus cannot affect it's results. Your just playing with yourself.
Always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Dream of an ideal world, but still live in the real world.