When I was a child, I looked suspiciously at the adults’ world. In fact, it seemed to me that adulthood was linked to a lot of unpleasant things: a lot of paperwork, responsibilities (at the time, that meant to me obligations), all kinds of problems, seriousness, and, of course, sense of reality. The last one appeared to be particularly stressed and manifested by exquisite commonplaces. You’re an adult now, so stop dreaming. You have to be responsible. Be realistic. I don’t know how many times I saw these delightful aphorisms in movies or in teenage books. Honestly, I claim that there isn’t any teenager on earth who hasn’t already heard such exhortations and who hasn’t rolled eyes with this typical teenager’s attitude halfway between boredom and attention. Nevertheless, what I want to point out here isn’t the legitimacy of such advice but rather a reflexion about the two main words which result from them: dream and reality. Clearly, these two words which characterize adulthood are constantly opposed in the phrases above. It would seem that an adult man could only either dream or be realistic. However, do these concepts really have to be antithetical? Must every adult abandon their childhood dreams to become down-to-earth and practical? Or is a reconciliation possible? It’s now time to take a telescope to look at the sky and throw some (star)light on the question.
First of all, I think it’s important to define these two terms: dream and reality. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word “dream” has two definitions: (1) “a series of events or images that happen in your mind when you are sleeping” and (2) “something that you want to happen very much but that is not very likely”. At the very beginning, I want to underline the fact that the second sense derives from the first and that I’ll further treat both as a whole because, for me, the common point between these two definitions is that it happens in the head (during sleep for the first one and as something desired for the second one). Then, according to the same dictionary, “reality” is “the state of things as they are, rather than as they are imagined to be” or simply “a fact”. It appears first that reality has nothing to do with what happens in the head and common sense would support this assumption. However, I see a huge problem with this definition of “reality” because, to perceive “the state of things as they are”, a human being needs its senses and the senses are decoded by the brain. So, at the end, it still occurs in the head. This inquiry in the dictionary leads therefore to an aporia: the opposition between “dream” and “reality” isn’t clear anymore and isn’t based on a separation between what happens outside and inside of the brain. Moreover, the unreal side of dreams is challenged by the two following arguments.
Firstly, Plato states in the 9th book of the Republic:
When, I suppose, a man’s condition is healthy and sober, and he goes to sleep after arousing his rational part and entertaining it with fair words and thoughts, and attaining to clear self-consciousness, […] and so goes to his rest, you are aware that in such case he is most likely to apprehend truth.
Thus, in some cases, dreaming allows men to reach truth. I personally agree with Plato’s statement. Who’s never had a difficult issue to fix and found a solution after a good night’s sleep? Just think about the English phrase sleep on it … Therefore, I’m convinced that dreaming can provide solutions applicable to real life.
Secondly, this opposition between reality and dream originates perhaps from the separation between being awake and being asleep, the first one occurring during the day and the second one during the night. Even so, it is not valid. Actually, dreaming falls within the scope of a paradox as it combines an awake state (to dream, your brain must be awake) and an asleep state (to dream, your body must be asleep). That’s why the stage of the sleep cycle where you dream, the REM sleep (for Rapid Eye Movement) is also called paradoxical sleep: because dreaming is an activity between being asleep and being awake. What has this to do with the opposition between dream and reality? Well, this opposition doesn’t stem from the separation of the concepts of waking and sleeping, as is not so clear as it appears at first sight.
To conclude, I think it is difficult to fully separate dreams from reality as the definitions of these two concepts are very difficult to pin down. I believe that dreaming is in some ways connected to reality and even real. As a last word about this aspect, I dare cite Dumbledore in the 7th book of the Harry Potter saga. When Harry asks Dumbledore if the discussions they had happened in his own head and were just a dream, Dumbledore answers: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?” I love this quote because it contradicts common sense: dreams are real even if they take place in our minds.
Now, may the reader forgive me this almost endless digression, but I wanted to stress the statement that dreams and reality don’t have to be antithetical. After this mere formality, I now want to answer the two following questions I asked in the introduction. Must every adult abandon their childhood dreams to become down-to-earth and practical? Or is a reconciliation possible?
As I said in the introduction, adulthood is seen as a responsible age. Once you reach your twenties, it’s assumed that you have to give up your dreams to face the so-called responsibilities. Ok, I bow to this statement. But let’s question it a bit. Responsibilities to whom? To the society which educated you and which you benefit from? Ok, I agree. To the others as one person’s freedom ends where another’s begins? Fine, I’ll go along with that too. However, there is a third sort of responsibility which is often passed over in silence: responsibilities to ourselves. For me, that includes having the capacity of taking care of oneself, of being and assuming who we are and of following our most buried dreams. A person who doesn’t follow her dreams and intuitions lies to herself. Therefore, it is important to consider both, dreams and reality (two concepts that are not in opposition), to respond to these three kinds of responsibility. I think that the key is to find a path that allows us both: on the one hand, doing what we like and want and, on the other hand, earning money to meet our needs.
In my last year at high school, I was astonished to see that a lot of my schoolmates were dividing into two distinct categories: dreamers vs. realists. The first ones wanted to do a gap year to discover themselves and the second ones wanted to study economy, law or pedagogy in order to have a career and a lot of money. Honestly, I had the impression that the dreamers’ heads were a little too high in the clouds and that the second were too serious, and above all, not listening to their inner voice. Wasn’t it possible to find a middle way? Besides, the realists had started to talk about this sacrosanct security. They wanted money, a stable life and a-little-kennel-in-the-garden-for-the-dog-for-the-rainy-days. Good heavens! Already at 20 years? I didn’t and still don’t think that security is a good driving force; the most important one to me is rather to follow one’s own dreams and to be oneself. And what with no risk no fun? A pinch of lunacy doesn’t do any harm …
This leads me to declare my personal credos about life and about what, in my opinion, it should be. As an incurable optimist, I believe in the following statements:
- Do what you like and follow your dreams and who you are, the rest will work itself out on its own.
- Don’t be afraid and don’t let fear steer your choices.
- Try and be adventurous. Don’t chose the easy way and what you already know but try and experiment. I especially agree with Kierkegaard when he says: “It’s not the path which is the difficulty; rather, it is the difficulty which is the path.”
- Be yourself and don’t wear masks (except if a certain virus forces you to).
- Don’t think too much about the norm and what is convenient. Don’t care too much about what the others think because you will always be criticized.
In conclusion, I think it’s important to dream and try the impossible. They didn’t know it was impossible, so they did it. I wonder how the world would be if everyone followed their intuition and tried the impossible. Surely a lot of people would feel freer. I wonder how life would be if everyone tried to catch a falling star …