Dream more boldly

Last night, I was very happy to have the opportunity to watch the opening session of TED2016 at Exeter Picturehouse, in the company of some of the lovely TEDxExeter team. One of the talks I most enjoyed was given by Dan Pallotta, and given that TED nicked their theme “DREAM.” from us,* their write-up fits nicely in my series about “Dreams to Reality”:

It’s time to dream more boldly. When activist Dan Pallotta thinks about dreams, he thinks about being 8 years old and watching Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon. And he thinks about the drag queens of LA and Stonewall, who risked everything to come out when it was dangerous. “We need more of the courage of drag queens and astronauts,” Pallotta says. But there was something about Apollo that Pallotta didn’t know as a child. Those iconic images of astronauts bouncing on the moon obscured the failed marriages, alcoholism and depression they left behind on earth. And after witnessing hurtful, destructive infighting in the LGBT community, in the fight against AIDs and breast cancer, and in nonprofit activism, Pallotta has found that our dreams can become fixations — that destroy our ability to be present for our lives right now. Now, he dreams of an epoch in which we are as excited, curious and scientific about the development of our humanity as we are the development of our technology. “I think what we fear most is that we will be denied the opportunity to fulfill our true potential,” Pallotta says. “Imagine living in a world where we simply recognize that deep, existential fear in one another — and love one another boldly because we know that to be human is to live with that fear. It’s time for us to dream in multiple dimensions, simultaneously.”

* Not really. Just a case of great minds thinking alike 😉

Dream succeeds dream

When I watched the film “Suffragette” in the cinema, I took note of the lingering shot of a book called “Dreams”. I think the title page had been signed by many Suffragettes. (As I don’t have a photographic memory, I might have dreamed it.) And I imagine them passing it round the group to read, each pressing it into the next woman’s hands while saying: “You must read this. It will encourage you greatly.”

I had to do a bit of digging to find that the book was written by Olive Schreiner in 1890. (This book came up at the same time.) In another of her books, “The Story of an African Farm”, Schreiner wrote:

“So age succeeds age, and dream succeeds dream, and of the joy of the dreamer no man knoweth but he who dreameth. Our fathers had their dreams; we have ours; the generation that follows will have its own. Without dreams and phantoms man cannot exist.”

Pardon the exclusive language!

The Suffragettes and Suffragists had their dream of gaining the vote, which became reality for most women over the age of 30 in 1918, and for all women over 21 on the same terms as men in 1928.

Now in the UK, the dream of suffrage has been succeeded by the dream of full equality for women: equal opportunities, equal pay, equal visibility, equal voice, equal respect, equal safety and security.

To that we must add the dream of full equality and justice for all, irrespective of gender, race, religion, sexuality, and all other labels and categorisations.

First a dream

In Washington Monument by Night (1922), Carl Sandburg wrote of the dream of the Founding Fathers of the United States:

The republic is a dream.
Nothing happens unless first a dream.

I never thought I’d ever quote Ronald Reagan in a post for TEDxExeter, but he quoted Sandburg before a joint session of Congress on 28 April 1981, and then he added: “all we need to begin with is a dream that we can do better than before. All we need to have is faith, and that dream will come true. All we need to do is act, and the time for action is now.”

Reagan uses the rule of three in his rhetoric to good effect: we need a dream; we need faith in our dream; and we need to act on our faith. Of course, the implication is that the dream should be to do better. And the need for dreams will never end; we will always need to dream new realities, to be willing to act, to change things for the better.

That applies to things out there, and it applies again and again and again. As President Obama said in his speech after the Charleston church shootings: “Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream.”

But usually it has to start with ourselves. To quote Gandhi again: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” So we too, each of us, need a personal dream. As the author Malcolm Forbes put it: “Living and dreaming are two different things – but you can’t do one without the other.”

Everyone will have a different personal dream, some to work for justice yes, others to see their nearest and dearest blossom, still others to truly become themselves. What is your dream?

Nothing happens unless first a dream.

Living the dream

Once again, I’m planning to write a series of blog posts around this year’s theme of “Dreams to Reality”. Writing ‘around the theme’ will mean that I touch on different aspects of dreams and reality.

I’m not sure that I’d want to live my sleeping dreams, of delving deeper and deeper into caves to the point of claustrophobia, or retaking my A’Levels or degree but neglecting to go to lectures or study (shudder). Being able to fly at the merest thought and hover with the omniscient view from above is more appealing, but unlikely to be realised during my lifetime.

Nevertheless, I’ll probably still touch on our sleeping dreams later in the series. I’m just fascinated by the different aspects of dreaming. Once upon a time, the Old English dream meant “joy, mirth, noisy merriment” or “music”. There may be two separate words that happened to be spelled the same, or the meaning of the word has changed dramatically. Dream in the sense of “sequence of sensations passing through a sleeping person’s mind” dates from the mid-13c. In the sense of “ideal or aspiration”, it dates only from 1931. 

Yeats in his poem “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”, which was published in 1899, would have been using dream in the sense of a sleeping vision. I am appropriating it in the sense of offering these writings in the hope that they spark something in my readers, while being aware how fragile and unformed they might be. And maybe it also applies to our speakers, offering their ideas in the hope that they touch their listeners.

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Dreams to Reality

TEDxExeter 2016 DandelionIn 2016, we want to encapsulate the idea of movement… that grappling with humanity’s toughest questions requires first a vision, a dream, and then action.

TED and TEDxExeter are devoted to ideas worth spreading. But why are those ideas worth spreading? Because they might spark a new way of looking at the world in our audience, or they might generate a new connection, or offer a new perspective on a complex issue. But ultimately because they are about creating a better world, a better future.

Without a dream, people struggle to keep on keeping on: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18a). But dreams by themselves are ineffectual, just “pretty bubbles in the air” that “fade and die” (Dean Martin). They need grounding in reality and dedicated action.

We are delighted that so many of our talks in previous TEDxExeter events have incorporated healthy doses of dreaming and realism, and that so many of our team, sponsors and delegates have caught the dreams and helped to create new realities.

As we dream TEDxExeter 2016 and curate all the talks and performances into reality next April, we might have some inkling of the sorts of seeds they might release into the world. But we can’t plan for our audiences, how those seeds might disperse and where they might land, and who else might be involved in watering and feeding them and nurturing the tiny shoots to fruiting plants.

So we invite you to dream dreams alongside us, dreams that are not bubbles but seeds, dreams that through action will one day become reality. And do join us on the day!