Philosophy is for Everyone

Can We Achieve Anything We Can Dream?

Here’s a common saying, “You can achieve anything you can dream.”

Sentiments like this are common, and the idea behind them seems to be that we have the power to achieve anything we want to achieve.

Now, such beliefs can feel inspiring. They give us a sense of power over our life, and they can motivate us to set new and inspiring goals. To dream big dreams.

On the other hand, Such sentiments can also discourage us sometimes.

For example, if we have dreams that mean a lot to us but we feel like we can’t achieve them, we may feel like there is something wrong with us. For example, we may feel like we aren’t working hard enough or that we are stupid or unmotivated.”

And to make matters worse, sometimes people will use beliefs like the ones above to shame other people.

“A Dame Scolding Naughty Children”, picture by Edward Bird, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For instance, if someone lives in poverty or suffers evils like abuse and racism, sometimes other people will say something like, “Don’t be a victim” or “Only you can change your life” or “You manifest the life you think you deserve.”

You can read more about the problems of this kind of victim-blaming here: Can Self-help Perpetuate Injustice?

It is never helpful to shame ourselves or other people in this way. And because of that, sometimes folks are wary of the idea that we can achieve any dream we have. As a result, many of us become afraid to dream lofty dreams or even cultivate optimism that we can achieve the kind of life we desire.

I have often felt such wariness in the past.

I would feel a beautiful dream or goal stirring inside me, and it would excite me. But then a voice inside me would say, You can’t do that. You can’t achieve your dreams.

And every time this negative voice inside me shut down my dreams, I would feel a profound sense of sadness and even despair.

“Despair”, by Bertha Wegmann, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

That should have been a sign that I was treating myself unhelpfully.

Yet somehow I permitted my inner critic to continue its discouragement campaign because I somehow felt like I was being more realistic and perhaps mature by approaching life this way.

But thankfully about a decade ago, I suddenly realized that this approach to life was extremely unhelpful and even unwise. One of the things that helped me realize this is the writings of the Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire.

In his seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire argues that every human being has a vocation, or a calling. And that vocation is the humanization of our world.

You can find Pedagogy of the Oppressed here. I have also written blog posts with study guides for the first three chapters of the book, which you can read here: Chapter One; Chapter Two; Chapter Three. (By the way, did you know that Pedagogy of the Oppressed has been banned in some states in the U.S.? That is because it is a really powerful book which helps people understand their own worth and that other people do not have the right to dehumanize them. You can read more about this here.)

The concept of humanization may seem confusing initially, but I like to think of it this way. Imagine what life was like for human beings 300 years ago. Now think of the way life is for humans today.

Granted, there may be some aspects about life in the 1700s some people would like to recover. For instance, I would love to recover some of the natural wild spaces we had in the 1700s that we have lost today.

However, although there certainly were good things about centuries past, I think most of us can agree that the world today is drastically better for human beings in many ways than it was in past centuries.

For instance, we could probably list dozens of ways the world is more just, safe, beautiful, or reasonable. For example, we could note that people, generally speaking, enjoy more rights. Or we might note that there are fewer wars today between major world powers. Or we might note that scientific progress has helped dispel many common (and harmful) superstitions.[1]

(And certainly there are still major problems today that we need to solve.)

“Euclid”, by Raphael, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If Freire was listening in on our conversation about such matters, he would tell us that these positive changes in our world occurred because people all throughout history have pursued humanization. (You can read more about this here: Is the World Getting Better or Worse?)

Humans have the ability, Freire argues, to spiritualize our world. Rather than living completely determined by, and immersed in, our material condition, humans can temporalize our world. That means we can simultaneously consider what our world was like in the past; how it is now; and how it might be different in the future.

As such we can notice problems in our world.

For example, we can notice when things aren’t the way they should be or ways in which they could be more just, beautiful, fair, and safe. As such, we can work on the world individually and with others to transform the world for greater humanization. And we have been doing this “since the dawn of time”, as the saying goes.

Freire reminds us of our human superpowers: our ethical abilities. We can dream and imagine a more beautiful world and set goals accordingly. And we can act on these goals, transforming the world for the better.

1696 map of the world by Carolus Allard, picture of Wikimedia Commons.

And in fact, this is the special magic of human beings, including you and me.

Trees photosynthesize. Leopards run fast. And water carves out rocks and canyons. Humans can’t achieve these goals with the same level of ease and excellence nature does. But we can humanize the world, and we have been doing so for thousands of years.[2]

Photo by Jan Huber, courtesy of Unsplash.

And we have done this because we dreamed of a better world, acted on those dreams, and transformed the world through our dreams.

I like to think of this process as our Great Adventure.

We are here on a Great Adventure, and that adventure is to make the world more just and beautiful for everyone and everything. We have already achieved so much, and we are going to achieve more.

Human beings, individually and communally, have achieved astounding things by dreaming and acting on those dreams. We can now fly and communicate instantaneously with people halfway around the globe.

So, in one very real way, we can achieve anything we can dream. And, in fact, I would like point out that human beings are Dream-Achievers. That’s who we are—that is our special magic.

And I think that point is very important. Because sometimes that negative inner voice—like the one I have—makes us feel like the very act of having dreams or dreaming exciting things is silly, impractical, unrealistic, or naïve.

That couldn’t be more wrong.

We are supposed to dream. That is who we are as human beings. And it is our unique gift as human beings. And that means your dreams matter. So do mine. They are a part of the Great Adventure.

“Sweet Dreams”, by David S. Soriano, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

So, I want to assure you dreaming beautiful dreams means you’re doing your life right. And of course, if your dreams are important, so are other people’s dreams. So you need to dream and set goals in a way that creates loving space for other people’s dreams and goals. This is, in part, what justice is.

Because of this, here is a saying I have developed recently to silence my inner critic:

“You can achieve any loving goal you have, sometimes in small ways, often in big ways.”

A loving goal is a goal that creates space both for your goals and the loving goals of other people. And it’s a goal that makes the world a more loving place for everyone.

And to create such a world, we must respect ourselves and other people as valuable in themselves, listen to them, and support their happiness.* (You can read more about this Ten Principles of Being Human and People First Politics.)

You were meant to achieve such loving goals. It’s your vocation as a human being. And other people were meant to achieve their loving goals. The more we support ourselves and others in the Great Adventure, the better our world becomes.

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*When I say we need to support people’s happiness, of course I don’t mean we need to support forms of happiness in which they harm themselves or other people. I mean, generally speaking, we need to support any way in which people are trying to bring more goodness, joy, creativity, and love into their lives or the lives of others.

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[1] I certainly don’t intend to claim that the world is perfect or that we have no further work to do in these areas. I only suggest that at least in many ways, the world is safer and better for humans today than it was 300 years ago.

[2] And by the way, when people humanize the world in a loving manner, they make the world a more just and beautiful place for all species, not just human beings—but that is the subject of another post.

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