Having a dream is not the same as being had by a dream

The genetic flaw of idealism

by Ken Sehested

       Any of you who spend time on Facebook know you will endure . . . well, uh, let’s keep it decent and say a pre-edited version of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.” And not just from . . . uh . . . the incredulous and socially-challenged who have too much time on their hands.

        There are also memes from the seriously well-intentioned, like the one I saw recently proclaiming, in all caps and bold face type, “RACISM DESTROYED IN ONE MINUTE.” As if being able to state insight about a problem is equivalent to implementing the remedy.

        Like many, I thoroughly enjoy stimulating conversations exploring seemingly intractable problems and coming to what feels like actual clarity about what might be done to at least nudge reality toward just and compassionate solutions.

        The genetic flaw in this form of idealism is that it substitutes ideas for solutions, severs vision from strategic planning. There’s a difference from having a dream and dreaminess.

        Whereas in reality having a good idea is like hearing the starter’s gun. The race has just begun. What comes next is sweat, persevering through frustration, maybe pain, coming to terms with the possibility that your best effort may not be enough, maybe even realizing you’ve marched up a dead end street, or that you are but one participant in a relay that will stretch on for years, decades, maybe even millennia.

        Having a dream is not the same as being had by a dream. The later may very well pick you up off the ground by your collar, toss you into a tornado, land you on a small boat in a very large storm—all without so much as a please-and-thank-you.

        Any dream worthy of the name may be hazardous to your career, your reputation, surely your economic security, conceivably your health, possibly even your life.

        The sharecropper turned civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer understand the risk. “Sometimes it seems like to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I'll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I'm not backing off.”

        The vast majority of those caught by a dream will never appear in anyone’s gun sight, or feel the weight of a billy club on your head, or hear a prison door close behind you. But there’s no warranty coverage.

        Ideas that matter will almost certainly cause calluses, maybe blisters, likely emotional turmoil and spiritual vexation of every sort. Tired bodies, cluttered minds, lagging spirits—all these and other impairments will have to be endured.

        A true and worthy hope, as Barbara Kingsolver wrote, requires more than admiration from a distance. You to take up residence under its roof.

        New friends will most certainly come along; but you may lose a few, too. If you’re honest, you will recognize there is always a little slippage between your comprehension of how to reach the Beloved Community and the actual Way forward. Righteous intention is no guarantee that you’re right. Owning mistakes, false conclusions, premature judgment, your own capacity to wound as well as heal—in short, living a life of penitential readiness—all of these foibles can be turned to strength if the ground of your confidence is more than personal pride.

        With any struggle worth the time, perseverance is more valuable than brilliance, in no small part because actual engagement is the best source of learning.

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©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org