Pragmatic Dreaming – the Third Way
One of the things I love about this blog is seeing other people ponder the same dilemmas as I’m having, as a twentysomething confused about their life direction. It’s comforting to know you aren’t alone in your uncertainty. But it doesn’t give you any answers, sadly.
We all share that we were born into the privilege of expecting unending freedom, opportunity and possibility; and that our world doesn’t reflect this vision that we were brought up to believe in. Oh the power of shattered expectations! We are all frustrated dreamers in an imperfect world. So where do we go from here?
There seem to be two schools of thought for this current generation of jobless dreamers, both among us and outside. Both have their problems.
There’s the American Dream school, who seem to want to solve our dilemma by pushing on more of the same twaddle which arguably got us here in the first place – just keep trying, hoping and believing and you WILL go to the ball! Somehow I think that if we hadn’t been told this from day one, we wouldn’t be half so disappointed now at how the future is looking. Nor would we take our failures so hard. What the American Dream doesn’t tell you is how long to keep trying if you keep failing; it doesn’t tell you how to react to failure; it doesn’t tell you when to change tack. Most importantly, it doesn’t help you assess whether your dreams are feasible or even worthwhile, in the first place.
Then there’s the ‘straighten up and fly right’/‘be realistic school’ of thought, who say we should all stop whining, pull ourselves together and deal with it, like the rest of the world who never expected their dreams to come true or their choices to be possible. Of course, they have a point. There are many people in the world who have shit lives with no choices, and they don’t sit on their arses whining about it all day on the internet (though, a significant proportion probably express their discontent in other ways, such as crime and drug abuse for example). There’s a lot to be said for taking action and taking control and going SOMEWHERE even if it’s not quite the place we want. It FEELS better than doing nothing, as a fellow blogger has pointed out.
Of course the problem with this argument is that it suggests that just because other people are having a shitty time we have no right to ask for, and demand more – i.e., if we all just accept that the world is like this, and that it’s us who are all wrong, then nothing will ever change. If we all work on this philosophy, well as long as there is anyone with a terminal disease or living in chronic poverty, I surely should not have the gall to expect anything more. And where would human civilization be if we all took that attitude.
There is also a problem with people describing their points of view as ‘realistic’ (and thereby calling you unrealistic, instantly delegitimizing your idea as foolish childishness). It’s no coincidence that all the most egregious theories of human nature and human motivation in the social sciences are called ‘realism’. It just wouldn’t sell if you called it ‘evil-justifying pessimism theory’. The only way to get people to believe in something shitty is to call it realistic, i.e. to say that THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE (TINA). And of course anyone who is saying that other people have to be realistic gets to look like a big man standing up to tough truths and dealing with it, while the rest are a load of useless shilly-shally-ers who prefer to live in fantasy because they aren’t big enough to handle the truth.
The problem with TINA realism is that there usually ARE alternatives, some of which you will never know until you try. And you won’t try if you believe in TINA.
So what to do?
There is a third way. Straighten up, fly right, and keep on dreaming. Because having something rather than nothing will help you, even if it’s just to get enough money so you can quit and do something else. Because doing something else now doesn’t have to mean you abandon your dreams. Most of all, we have to take the long view. We like to believe our generation is special, but these problems are as old as the hills. Teddy Roosevelt had this to say about this particular dilemma:
‘In your ideals, keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.’
He knew his shit it seems; looks like he knew ours as well.