Thursday, 7 January 2010

“If you can dream - and not make dreams your master”

This is a line from that wonderful poem “If” by the great Victorian, Rudyard Kipling who spent much of his life in India. The whole poem is full of wise and inspiring advice on how best to live your life on earth.

We all dream and we all have dreams, often secret, which are not always within our grasp but which keep us going when life seems to have turned against us. They are the stuff of imagination; of deep held desires; of heartfelt longing. When they are deeply felt, they help to mould our lives and our actions; everything we do reflects the longing to reach out and change what we can so that the dream may be realised. For some people this longing is so all-consuming that they subordinate everything else to the achievement of their dream. That can be good or bad.

When dreams become our master, often inflexibility in our attitude towards other people and events changes the nature of the dream. It takes over our every waking moment and persuades us to adapt every circumstance to the achievement of that single aim. People who we think are obstructing the road that leads to achieving our dream, are thoughtlessly brushed aside, for the only reality to us, as slaves to the dream, is its achievement, everything else is unimportant. When such dreams are realised, and they are usually dreams based upon the achievement of material wealth, power, or both, they often become nightmares, for the methods by which we have realised our dream invalidate it.

A dream, like so much else in our lives, can be a force for good or ill. It behoves us to think carefully about why we wish to achieve our particular dream, for motive determines whether we attract to us positive or negative forces as we move closer to its achievement. It is safest, for our own spiritual wellbeing, if our dreams are aimed at helping others, rather than just our selves. Sometimes a dream sets out as a selfless desire to help others but as we progress towards its achievement we become sidetracked by visions of power and influence. This leads to the nature of the dream changing; helping others becomes a secondary consideration. We would do well therefore to re-examine our motives as we move towards its achievement. Is it still as altruistic as when we set out? Will I now be the main beneficiary, rather than those others we wanted to help? Many a young politician has set out with a fine, altruistic dream of using his or her influence to benefit others, only for it to become lost in a morass of self serving and corruption.

It is to the dreamers that we owe much that is good in society and in the world. Let us take just two examples; Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Here were two men who refused to allow themselves to be mastered by their dreams. They kept firmly to their altruistic principles and refused to be side-tracked by violence and the threats of violence and in the case of Mandela by the lure of power.

King, a black man, grew up in the deeply segregated southern states of the USA and watched in horror the violence and unfairness meted out to his brother and sister blacks. He resolved to bend every sinew to right the wrongs of segregation and allow his brothers and sisters to have an equal share in the “American Dream.” He was blessed by God with a talent for oratory and when he became a preacher this gift enabled him to stir people’s hearts and consciences. At first he was preaching to the converted, those of his own racial background but gradually he moved into the public arena and forced all liberal and fair-minded people to think carefully about what they were allowing to happen in their own country. He became an icon for the desegregation movement and a ‘bête noir’ to those bigoted white people who were not afraid to use violence to keep their segregated societies in place. His life was in great danger from such people, yet he did not flinch. Instead he gave his famous “I have a Dream” speech that stirred the consciences of so many decent Americans. Sadly it led to his death at the end of an assassin’s bullet, but because he refused to be cowed by threats, his ‘dream’ is so close to its realisation that his country has elected a black President.

Mandela was a leader of the African National Congress in South Africa and was imprisoned for many years by the Boers, whose government administered the inhuman policy of Apartheid. During all his years in prison he never lost heart or the sight of his dream that one day his country would achieve universal suffrage and be governed fairly and openly in the interests of ALL South Africans. He could have been forgiven had he become so embittered by his incarceration, that when his party eventually came to power, with him as its head, revenge was all that mattered. But no, he sought reconciliation, not only with the previous government, but also with the different factions (mainly tribal) within his own people. As a result, African majority rule that could so easily have led to a bloodbath, was implemented smoothly. Today as the retired President of his country, he must feel a great sense of satisfaction as he sees the preparations for the next Olympic Games in South Africa. The Games are an official, international endorsement of his achievements, of his dream.

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