Dreaming Responsibly


In dreams begin responsibility, wrote William Butler Yeats.

Dreams and desires are twins, for desiring means wanting that which is not yet. Proper desire moves us towards creating better conditions not only for ourselves and our times but for others in a time not yet arrived.

Dreams and desires are the beginning of better things. But they can also be the illusions of the young, a wishful thinking. When dreams are merely figments of the imagination, they become impediments to the realization of those things that make life full and satisfying.

There are also dreams that are egocentric. These take us away from the relationships that provide for flourishing. We need to tame our selfish desires so that dreams aren’t cudgels but threads of responsibility, shared in a common quest towards peace and justice and, therefore, happiness.

But when dreams are true, we assume the responsibilities of camaraderie. These are the dreams that draw others in, the dreams that both uplift and tie.

The fulfillment of dreams may also be near at-hand, as this Jewish folk story indicates:

One night a man dreamed that he saw a treasure buried under a bridge in a far off city. When he woke, he rushed off to find the treasure. Now in the strange city he saw the very bridge that had appeared to him in his dream. He was sure that was it and under its arches he would find what he was looking for. He stood on the bridge, not trying to attract attention to himself. But he failed.

A policeman had seen him and now approached the man. The man decided that the best thing to do was to tell the truth and propose that he and the policeman share the hidden treasure.

The policeman burst out laughing.

“This is foolishness,” the policeman said. “I once had a dream that in a house in a far off town there was a treasure buried under the kitchen floor. I didn’t go running off to that town to find this dream-treasure, did I?”

The man thought about what the policeman had said and rushed back to his own town, the one described by the policeman, and began to dig in the foundation of his own house, the one described by the policeman.

And there, after many days of digging, he uncovered the treasure he had been dreaming of.

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