“I prefer to be a dreamer among the humblest, with visions to be realised, than lord among those without dreams and desires” – Khalil Gibran
Activism is often viewed as a pastime reserved for extreme idealists, for those who unrealistically dream too big. What does that mean? Dreaming too big? Seeking a world ruled by true, divine justice, perhaps? Or, working to construct an equitable system consolidated by a perfect distribution and redistribution of resources, where nobody has too little nor too much? Where we don’t paradoxically have an obesity epidemic and a famine crisis brewing at the same time? Where the real criminals, those who seek to strip us of our intellectual and emotional freedom by enslaving us in a system that does not value our humanity nor our dignity, are stripped of their power, authority, and perceived legitimacy? If those are some of the things you aspire for, they’ll tell you that you’re dreaming too comfortably by society’s very own mediocre standards, and you’re immediately dismissed as a wishful thinker, a utopian. A joke.
I’m not exaggerating; I can recall, very vividly, countless moments throughout my life where I’ve been met with that blunt cynicism. As I would answer questions about what I envisioned for my career and the causes that I’d like to dedicate my life to, the reaction was exactly that, by family, (some) friends, and foes alike. Some would literally scoff at me to my face. Like “are you for real?”. Other times, they’d say things like “calm down mate”; “lighten up”; “why aim for something that’s never going to happen?”; “you’re way too serious, do you ever just go out and have fun?”; “why work for that kind of money when you could be making so much more; you graduated from LSE Yaz, the world is your oyster”.
The thing is though, I get it. I get why we have this stubborn inability to take so-called dreamers seriously. It’s prescribed in the very facet of our human nature to belittle what we don’t understand; and by understand, I’m not alluding to the kind of understanding that yields the knowledge that 2+2=4. Rather, the understanding that life has a purpose, that life is about dissecting that purpose, and that an honourable life is one which is consciously directed by an unrelenting desire to manifest that purpose. This casual dismissiveness of idealism that plagues society, although subtle, has ignorance written all over it. And you know what, I’m not going to beat around the bush: I have, many times, been extremely close to giving up on my ideals, throwing the towel in and chasing that lucrative corporate job, strutting into work in my Louboutins, accessorising my arm with that Prada bag, driving around in a velvet Ferrari (yes, these things exist), building a healthy bank balance, treating myself to a weekly spa, dining at London’s finest restaurants, and having all that jazz at my mercy. At times, I even mocked myself about my own idealism. I almost sold out; I think there’d be something slightly abnormal with me if I wasn’t tempted.
But we somehow always find our way back to the truth, not willingly. Rather, out of necessity. Or what I perceive it as: God’s mercy. When a person carries a conviction wholeheartedly, so much so that it permeates through their very being, occupies their thoughts, and is remembered with every breath, the other fact about human nature dictates that you can’t lie to yourself. As hard as we sometimes may try, and perhaps even want to, we can’t silence our conscience. We all know the potential (and limits) of our own moral compass. And I know that not only would I be unhappy living that life, I would be forcibly rebelling against my own conscience. That is no life to live.
In my view, without a spirit of activism driven by an intolerance of injustice, we become dangerously content with living for this world with a subtle yet penetrative indifference towards people. If someone out there is suffering, that should concern us. That should bother us. I’m serious about world poverty, about terrorism, about fighting the corporate monopoly’s grip on our resources, on our labour. I’m serious, because if I was the woman in Pakistan who lost her husband in a US-sponsored drone attack, I would hope somebody out there would empathise with my pain and lobby the government to end drone strikes. Because if I was the Palestinian refugee who has yet to be allowed to walk on the same soil that her grandfather walked on, I would hope that someone out there would fight in the name of the injustice I have suffered, and campaign for Palestinian self-determination. Because if I was the mother in Somalia who has had to watch her children starve to death because of a deadly famine, I too would pray that someone out there is doing something to help me feed my children. Without our humanity, we truly are nothing.
Yet the status quo continues to thrive only because its proponents have persisted in convincing us that the “every man for himself” imperative is the most efficient and rewarding. Compartmentalised living has reigned over us through the dogmatic pursuit of doctrinal free market economics and neo-liberalism, pigeonholing “us” and “them”. Divide and conquer. Empathy and altruism, we are taught, don’t pay. They tell us that the state can’t afford to make welfare payments to the vulnerable in our society. It costs too much. So let’s just forget about the fact that there are people, in the 21st century, who are homeless. On our streets. It’s a joke. If only it was funny.
If Malcolm X had given up on his dream of racial equality and justice in America because it was ‘unrealistic’, would the legacy he has left half a century later be as it is today? If Gandhi had given up on his dream of liberating India from the shackles of occupation because to do so would mean squaring up to the biggest colonial power of that time, would India still be under the captivity of Britain? If Imam Hussain had given up on his dream of restoring Prophet Muhammed’s message of monotheism and justice by pledging allegiance to the tyrant, Yazid, because he felt that his caravan of 80 people could not physically defeat an army of thousands, would we have known courage and martyrdom through him as we do today? I don’t know about you, but my role models are the very people who I would define as activists. Revolutionaries, not just by spirit, but by action. They were those who chased their dreams and sought justice at all costs, in spite of seeming impossibility, the threat to their lives and families, and prevailing societal cynicism.
Neglecting your dreams because you think they’re unachievable is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So chase your dream. Not what you think should be your dream; rather, the one you know about. Chase your dream. Not society’s. And if it seems unfeasible, it just means you have a lot more work to do.
“Dream big even if a dream seems too big” – Mic Righteous