Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
There is reason, and there are dreams…but what is one without the other? How limited and colorless is a life guided by reason alone?
Despair is all around us. As I look at the world, there are more than enough reasons to lose hope. There are days when it is easy to dread the morning, considering all that is going on. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful family, to love and be loved, but sometimes that makes things even worse. I fear for those for whom I care. What might happen to them if everything comes crashing down? There is darkness around every corner. What if the light goes out?
My father was a professor, and I followed in his footsteps, teaching for most of my life. I learned early that if I had an opinion, I needed to have evidence — facts and figures — to back it up. Just believing something was not enough. “Where’s your evidence?” “What is your reasoning?” I still think that there is a lot to be said for this approach to life.
But sometimes, reason only takes you so far. Sometimes a dream is more powerful. And dreams can transform a threatening world into a better place.
My father and I were alike in so many ways, but we saw the world in fundamentally different ways. I don’t think one needs to abandon facts and figures; dreams can build on a foundation of reason, but dreams can take you further. My father and I shared many opinions, and we had much in common, but he could never quite understand that I needed more.
Those who know me would probably be surprised to learn that I am not the person they think they know. As they see me, I am orderly, moderate, and reasonable. And this image has, in fact, helped me in my life. But they have only seen the person who lives a life of reason.
The truth is, I am a dreamer.
I don’t reject reason, but I believe there is more to life than reason can give us. Dreamers see with their hearts as well as their minds. They hear things that others don’t hear, even in silence. They notice things that others fail to see, whether something is visible to others or not. They feel the joy and pain of others. Dreamers experience the world differently than others. Does this describe you? Do you long for something better, more beautiful? Do you feel that more is possible?
When you wake up in the morning, do you see connections you cannot explain by reason alone? Do you feel the world and all its wonders? One of my teachers, Mushashi, said that everything has its own cadence, its own rhythm. We need to learn how to listen to the music around us. The major chord of a nearby lake. The minor chord of the frost that covers the meadow’s grass. And people have their own cadences too. The person from across the hall who is at peace. The person who serves you at the coffee shop, but moves in ways that reveal anxiety. Sometimes a person’s eyes can tell you about the pain that hides beneath a smile. We cannot think clearly without reason, but thinking clearly is just not enough.
The dreamer in me sees that dreams are the most powerful force in the world. Magic surrounds us. The world comes to us with so many problems. But underneath our broken society, the splintered relationships around us, are someone’s dreams.
I know that dreamers actually make the future.
Today can be lonely, hurtful, dangerous, even threatening. But tomorrow will be created by those who have the courage to dream of a new way. It has always been this way, and yet dreamers are often ridiculed, ignored, and even shunned. People fear what they don’t understand, and they don’t know how to embrace the power of dreams.
Cynics are everywhere. But cold cynicism is, in fact, weak, and it tries to hide this by being aggressive. The cynic’s understanding of the world is based on their own limitations. Don’t be bullied by the cynics around you. They will tell you that dreams are useless, that they are a waste of time. They will laugh at you, dismiss you, and if that is not enough, they will threaten you because they feel threatened by those who can dream. Bullies are slaves to their own fears and prejudices. Dreams, on the other hand, are liberating. Be strong. Believe in yourself. And dream.
Dare I say it? Hope seems unrealistic until you understand that we are the stuff of dreams.
The boss who wants to keep you in line, the politician who hopes to manipulate you — they can only do so if we give up hope, if we surrender our power to them. Together, we can make the most amazing things come to life, but only if we take a deep breath and challenge ourselves to look in new directions, to move in ways we haven’t been willing to go before.
Think of what we know from the past. Who has made a real difference? Is it the person who says that money is all that really matters? Is it the person who says that power is the key to change? What about the person who whispers in your ear that love is an illusion? Where are they today? The sad, empty lives they lead betray the shallowness of their understanding.
The greatest empires have come and gone. They have risen and fallen with the breeze. But the dreamers have changed us. Religious dreamers. Scientific dreamers. Artistic dreamers. Social dreamers. Literary dreamers. And so many more. Who knows? You could be the dreamer of tomorrow. You can change the world, if only you feel free enough to try.
Some dreams are big and others are small, but they all matter. A small dream might be to shed a habit you have that you see holding you back. Or perhaps you want to learn how to play a new musical instrument. There is no reason to discard your dream, just because it isn’t grand. But if your dream is to change the world, there is no reason to discard it just because it is grand. No dream is too small or too big.
And it doesn’t matter how old you are. You should never stop dreaming.
Of course, having a dream is just the first step. We still need to act, to work hard to make the dream a reality. If we dream to be free of a habit or an addiction (a much more difficult goal), we still need to go through the intense, difficult process of making the change.
If your dream is to change the society around you, then you must work to inspire others with your dream. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr. saying I have a dream. He didn’t stay satisfied with having the dream. He devoted his life to realizing that dream. Even so, he died before he reached his goal.
Even with devoting hard work to achieving your dreams, not all of them will come true. But we shouldn’t draw the wrong lesson from that. We shouldn’t conclude that dreaming was wrong in the first place. Dreaming is always a good thing. It energizes us. It focuses our life energy on the future and its possibilities. If one dream doesn’t work out, then move on to a new dream. Find a new direction. Take yet another chance. A life without dreams is a life without hope, and that is barely a life at all. Don’t settle for that kind of life.
Dreaming matters, even if you don’t achieve your dream. The way we live is, in many ways, more important than the goals we choose for ourselves.
But we must choose. One might even call my belief in dreams religious. I have friends who call their dreams miracles. But no one word defines it. My father was a great man, and I owe him so much for his legacy of reason. My path began with him but I have gone beyond what he, in his wisdom and with his love, bequeathed to me. Everything truly great begins with a dream. And if we believe in it, we can find the energy to bring the dream to others. We must not let the light go out. We can light a spark that warms and encourages others to do the same. I am talking about the power of hope and the undeniable force of vision, combined with persistence and grit. If we can see beyond ourselves, we can make things happen. And little by little, shared dreams can become shared realities.
You may also enjoy reading Thank You Father (a Love Story, of Sorts), by Solomon Stevens.