The Value Of Dreams And More, Of Dreaming ForwardShare
A story of a child, one of more than 2.6M, that reminds us how vital it is to fuel our dreams and feed our imagination
This is how the story went: she's a 10-year-old girl, a Syrian refuge on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon. She's describing the two-story house she lived in before the fighting began, how bright it was inside, how she and music ran through the house freely. You can feel her smile as her voice comes across the radio waves. You can see her smiling as she runs through that house so full of promise and possibility. It's a description of a time and a place of ‘forward dreaming’.
Jarringly and quickly you are brought back to the present and the reality that she is telling you this story as she cautiously pauses from selling gum on the streets of Beirut, alone and at night, to scavenge enough money so her brothers can eat today. This is ‘dreaming backwards’.
We don't often distinguish dreams in this manner - forward dreaming versus backward dreaming. But it is a powerful distinction that serves as a critical reminder – no matter the person or the dream.
Dreaming, or imagining what could be, is rooted in our shared capacity to think creatively about the possible. It is the catalyst, the seed of any progress and in a hardly overstated way, it is the key to our survival as a species. Yet we tend to categorize dreaming as a luxury, something done on borrowed time or responsible for wasting time. Too often, dreaming is filtered through the concrete – if it doesn't offer the immediately tangible or recognizable, if its value can't be refined to a dollar sign or exchanged immediately in a marketplace, in short if it doesn't appear to neatly fit into the known, then we conclude it to be the frivolous domain of children.
If the irony isn't screaming at you right now, think about it this way: everything that is today, at least those things created, shaped, or employed by humans for a valued use, was once simply a dream... a thought if you like, an idea, a ‘what if’ or ‘what about’. Each thing, belief, or way began as an intangible in every sense and every place... except in our imagination. And each of those imaginings wasn't just a dream but a dream forward. We were thinking about what could be.
How could something so vital be seen as a luxury? How, and more importantly why would we squander it or place an age cap on it? Sometimes it's hard to appreciate the depth of value in something until it's gone. In this case, it's remarkably easy to overlook or undervalue the power, the necessity, the humanness, the vitalness of dreams, of the capacity to imagine, to think creatively and see differently until we experience it in reverse.
But that's precisely what this young girl reminded me of. She is but one of more than 5.6 million refugees, more than half of whom are children, displaced by the current civil war in Syria. Just this war. Yet she represents an interesting number to consider: more than 2,600,000 children, the purveyors and practicing population of dreamers in our world, have been forced to dream backwards. They think of a 'what was/what could have been' kind of world. Rather than playing in the domain of what could be, they are forced a giant grown-up step in reverse, moving not just themselves but all of us backwards. They have no choice in the matter.
In an odd and strangely promising way, their circumstances resonate to me as hope. Every day, the vast majority of those of us reading this as well as those we know and interact with each day, have both the opportunity and the capacity to dream. More, we have the choice. A lack of practice is not a lack of capacity. We have not been forced to dream backwards. More, we are the guardians of an asset central to all that moves us forward. Imagine what we could do with that.
For a listen to the story of the girl that sparked this piece, visit NPR website HERE.
Larry Robertson is the author of two award-winning books: ‘The Language of Man. Learning to Speak Creativity’ and ‘A Deliberate Pause: Entrepreneurship and its Moment in Human Progress’. He’s the founder of two ventures, one for-profit and one non, and a highly respected thought leader in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship, advising individuals and organizations across a broad spectrum. Larry is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and a former Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.