The Necessity of Having Impossible Dreams

There is a phenomenon in psychology called “affective forecasting”—one’s attempt to predict how future situations will make the individual feel. Across the board, the research has been consistent; people suck at affective forecasting and are typically far off the mark in understanding how future events will make them feel. Much of this inability to accurately predict our own feelings lies in a bias where we tend to view future situations—good or bad—in isolation, thus over-exaggerating the good or bad feelings that we are predicting. We tend to neglect how there will be future good things that go along with the bad, just as there will be future bad things that go along with the good.

The reason that this phenomenon is worth mentioning in the context of a discussion on dreams is because is perfectly highlights the fallibilities of our own minds, in that we have difficulty considering factors outside of the realm of our own experience. The same applies to dreams; many of us are terrified to either acknowledge or act upon our dreams—or both—simply because we do not know “what they would look like”—we cannot imagine how something we have not experienced would manifest itself.

The nature of “dreams” is elusive.

Some say that the trouble with dreams is that they force us to attempt and understand the unknowable through the lenses of what we do know. A dream, by nature, is not something that has yet been carried out by the one who is doing the dreaming, yet we think about this “un-experienced” thing in terms of what we have already experienced as people. Dreams ask us to see the world outside of ourselves, but it is only through ourselves that we ever possibly could. How could that make sense, right?

The opponents of the impossible dream say that the idea of the “dream” is too abstract and too fallible to ever have real merit. I argue the opposite—it is because of their fallibilities that dreams have merit. It is unimaginably difficult to attempt and predict how future situations would play out, without ever having experienced anything like them before. Because of this, a common pitfall on the path to an ideal life is dreaming the riskless dream. In colloquial terms, many of us ignore the urge to reach towards the impossible, because we feel better “playing it safe.”

However, in a world whose tomorrow is as undetermined and improbable as the expanses of our own minds, it makes little sense to dream in absolutes, within the constraints of what we have come to know as “safe.” For in this safe space, the stagnant dreams lay. Asleep, undisturbed, and out of failure’s way, the thoughts whose outcomes are as certain as their existences, will live on, satisfied to subsist on only the doubts of our very spirits. The dreams that play it safe thrive on our insecurities and self-identified faults. Their legitimacy increases when our self-confidence goes in the other direction.

Their existence is a simple one, for the dream that is devoid of risk hardly encounters the tumultuous path that the risky dream does. Here, “risky” is defined as the attribute that makes any dream, belief, or foresight uncertain. It is the space between wanting and doing, wishing and willing, planning and executing, where the opportunity to fall short is very present and very real.

In this space, the wanter, wisher, and planner can do one of two things. She can continue to want, wish, and plan—there is nothing wrong with this, but there is nothing revolutionary about this, either. On the other hand, she can begin to will, or commit the mental and physical resources necessary for a dream’s manifestation. Because the safe dreams primarily exist within the space that guarantees neither manifestation nor death, the individual is powerful beyond measure because of the opportunity to send the dream in either direction.

The dream without this recognition of individual power—the will—is a luxury of mental convenience. It can be both abandoned and picked up again and again without consequence. When the realities of a life outside of our own minds becomes all too “real,” we can easily walk away from the dream, only to pick it up once more when those realities become too monotonous to bear. The back and forth lends itself to a noncommittal attitude towards whatever dream we are entertaining halfheartedly—the dream will only ever exist in the aforementioned “space” if it is never given a permanent home. In the long term, life cannot be lived in this matter if one simultaneously aims for a peaceful existence. The dream must be taken as seriously as if were a matter of life or death—for surely, the dream very definitively determines spiritual and intellectual life or death within the physical life that we have been given.

The impossible dream is the one which, more than others, has the potential for very real power. The road less traveled is not the choice for the individual to entertain these ideas—every single person does that, often right before going to sleep. The existence of these dreams makes life bearable for many. However, the road less traveled is the one that commits to taking these dreams out of the space between wishing and doing. It does not abandon the dream amidst the impossibilities that “real life” presents us, but rather continues to commit resources while surrounded with impossible realities every day. It is the continual choice to dream the impossible—not simply continual dreaming—that necessitates a different tomorrow.


Image courtesy of S.R., Flickr Creative Commons


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