The time has come for a new American Dream, since the one we have been dreaming together has become a nightmare. We dreamt of free speech and we got hate speech. We dreamt of the pursuit of happiness and we got students armed with guns killing other children. We dreamt of freedom and we got unarmed water protectors having their flesh burned off by the very same water they are trying to defend. We dreamt of a democracy where each person’s vote counted and we got a government where the voices of those who have money and power count more, and the votes of those living in poverty count less. We dreamt of equality and we got merit. We dreamt of education and we got indoctrination. We dreamt of racial harmony and we got tokenism, ignorance, bigotry, and injustice. We dreamt of a criminal justice and we got courtrooms where we play out our old fears and prejudices over and over and over again, strengthening them each and every time we come to a verdict.
In the nightmare, we are told that everyone is given a fair chance, that this is possible. In the nightmare we are told that if we vote for the right politician and follow the laws and pay our taxes, then we are good citizens. In the nightmare we are told that if only we work hard enough, we can live a life of comfort and security. In the nightmare we believe that if we simply take care of ourselves, everything will be all right. In the nightmare we believe that if we own a certain type of car and wear certain clothes and live in certain neighborhoods, then we are successful and happy. In the nightmare we believe if we have 1,000 likes on our Facebook page, then we should feel good about ourselves. In the nightmare we are convinced that if we can surround ourselves with other people who look and think and act like us then we have community. In the nightmare we are thought of merely as consumers and we do not mind because we have forgotten how to see ourselves any other way. In the nightmare we allow our creative powers and resources to be used and abused for selfish and greedy means. In the nightmare we readily sign away our power in exchange for an image that they feed to us.
In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me he speaks of white people as the dreamers and I take that to heart. I do believe white people, me, have a particular responsibility for today’s nightmare, because we created and we maintained this dream, and it was always built on lies. Stories we told ourselves like Manifest Destiny and State’s Rights and Eugenics and Merit and an Equal Playing Field, fantasies that white people were destined to have it all—and why? Because we wanted to believe we were better. Eventually we stopped saying that part, even though on the inside, we still believed it. Why? Because we are still convinced that the ones who win are better off, that the winners are the good guys and the losers the bad. This is the seductive dream that gives us a false sense of security. The time has come for us to awaken from this nightmare and dream a new dream.
The very core of the old American Dream has been shaken, because too many people have lived it and proved that it is no longer true—the part where if you work hard, you will achieve the good life. But even before it collapsed it was always a nightmare. It might sound good, but inside that dream lives the seed of a nightmare, the nightmare that if you do not achieve these things, you are a failure, you have not worked hard enough, you just were not good enough after all, and also, if you do achieve these things, then you are better, superior, more worthy. When we believe that dream, we create this nightmare, and this nightmare has now overtaken us.
So I pray that we can all come together and focus, focus on creating this new American Dream. In this new American dream there can be no winners and we cannot rely merely on our judgments. In the new dream, we must admit our ignorance. In the new dream there will be no criminals, and there will be no victims. In the new dream, we can’t pretend like we can figure out who is worthy and who isn’t. In the new dream, we must understand that what makes us different from one another is what is precious about each other. In the new dream, we must embrace the depths of all that we do not know.
If we admit our ignorance, how do we face all of the injustice? In times like this, when we make a stand, let’s make one for dreaming a new dream. It is the pattern of the nightmare to allow ourselves to become the righteous and others the villains. Us against them, them against us, the good guys and the bad guys, the criminal and the innocent, the right and the left, the crazy and the sane—these are the divisions of the nightmare. It’s not to say that we must all grab hands and pretend that none of these differences exist, or to pretend that we are not hurt when others cause us pain. Everyone has a right to say it—in fact you have a duty to express the pains that are in your heart, and to make your boundaries known. But this does not make you right, and the one who has done harm wrong. Your pain is not your validation. It is your salvation.
In the new dream we will learn to savor our grief. In the new dream, our tears will be our justice. We cannot make the mistake of allowing our pain to define us and become victims of our precious wounds. In the new dream we will learn how to make our wounds our strengths, our obstacles lessons and opportunities to grow. In the new dream, we will not allow ourselves to drown in our own fear and hate because in the new dream, there is space for contradiction, there is always room for both, for fear and desire and hate and love, and because of that, there is always peace. In the new dream, we do not have to be right to do the right thing, and we do not have to be wrong to do the wrong thing. In the new dream, we will learn what it truly means to forgive.
In the new dream, we can only hope that each thing reaches its own potential, but we can’t pretend we know what that potential is or should be–we cannot project our own paths onto others. In the new dream we will not look to others to determine our paths, we will look inside of ourselves. In the new dream, there will be no need for opinions, because the heart has no opinions, and in the new American dream, we will all lead with our hearts. In the new American Dream, we will not define ourselves by our accomplishments and our ideas, but rather by the contours of our very own souls.
Let us dream again, dream more, dream harder. It is vital that anyone who has the courage or capacity to hope and to dream do so now. It is time for the dreamers to awaken and commit to their dream, and to walk towards it, step by step. When we fail to act, we fall into the nightmare that nothing we do matters. This is how we become trapped in the illusion, when we become consumers instead of creators, when we believe the lies they tell us about who we really are and what we are capable of.
It is time for us to find a vision that lives inside of each of us, to recognize it and tend to it for the health and safety of this new collective dream we are trying to give birth to. It’s vital that we practice our ability to hope, our ability to dream. The dreams we have at night can be thought of as nightly revelations of this truth. There is this breathtaking truth inside of you, and it’s wounded and gnarly and gorgeous. Just take a closer look inside of your very own dreams and you will find it, glittering there, and only you will ever really be able to see it. It’s our own secret precious treasure, that fire that burns inside of us, and our only job, really, is to keep that fire burning, and not to ever let it go out, and to keep walking towards it, even when we can barely even tell it is there.
So if you are in the position to dream—please do it. And if you someone who has a stable roof over their head, or if worse came to worse, like if your home and all of your belongings were flooded in a storm, that you have people in your life that you could turn to, then you are in that position. If you are someone with that degree of material security, then you need to find your way to hope right now, allow that roof over your head to be your reason, allow the breakfast you ate this morning to be your reason, allow the warm pillow you will rest your head upon tonight to be your reason, hope on this, hope for all of those for whom none of those things are guaranteed.
Because when you find your way to hope you will find your way to vision, to your truth, and to your dream. Believe your dream is there and then find it, and once you find it keep your eyes on it and follow it. We need people to be creative right now, to focus on the resources that they have and the people they can influence, to let themselves feel the power that they have right here and right now. It’s really important that we do not get lost in the wider story, that everything is doomed, that what we do and say doesn’t matter. If we have learned anything, it’s that the people we listen to and read and watch on TV are no longer any better at figuring out what is going on than we are. We need vision right now, your vision, not fearful speculation. It is okay to be afraid. In fact, it is terrifying to be hopeful in the face of darkness. But find the fear that is asking a question of you, not the one that is telling you the way things are. Lead with your heart, the thing that loves, and listen as it tells you where to walk. Dreaming and fearing can sometimes feel like the same thing. Love is the difference. When we love, we turn our fears into hopes. When we love, we turn our circumstances into visions. When we love, we dare, we jump off the cliff, we climb into the cave, and we come face to face with the snake, and we dance, and when we dance, a new dream is born.
And when you do this—can you share it here with me? I would love to hear what your dreams are—all kinds and shapes. Thank you so much for all the dreaming you have done already. It’s what keeps my fire going even on windy nights, and for that, I am so grateful.
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