“Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,… [and] see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams”

A Happy New Year to all of my readers!!!

I get to celebrate New Year twice every year. The first on September 11, the Ethiopian New Year. The second on January 1. I also get to make two sets of New Year’s resolutions.

In my September commentary “Resolutions for the Ethiopian New Year (2007)”, I made a number of bold resolutions. Some of those resolutions may sound quite quixotic to some. I “resolved” to use my pen (computer keyboard) to help kindle the imagination of Ethiopia’s young people, fight creeping cynicism, help defang the gnawing hope(help)lessness and paralyzing despair of the people, teach and preach human rights in new and different ways and strive to change the public debate from the politics of hate to the politics of love, among others. No doubt, all of them are audaciously quixotic.  I believe New Year’s resolutions, by their very nature, must be overambitious, idealistic and even unrealistic and impractical.

When one is making “resolutions” in the cause of human rights for the New Year, it is important to anchor them in reasoned idealism because the struggle against tyranny and for human rights is itself a titanic struggle between good and evil. But “neither good nor evil can last forever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand”, wrote Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in “Don Quixote”, arguably  the “best literary work ever written.” I believe evil has prevailed in Ethiopia for so long that good must be around the corner in 2015!   Therefore, grand and grandiose resolutions and dreams for 2015 and beyond are in order.

One of the grandiose or grand resolutions I made for the Ethiopian New Year was to “articulate my version (not vision) of the Ethiopian Dream and challenge others to articulate theirs.” But first, what are dreams?  What does it mean to dream? What is the difference between dreams and nightmares?

Dreams are unique to the dreamer. The dreamer dreams his/her own dreams and creates meaning out of them and turns them into reality. Dreams are very important not only to individuals but also nations. Dreams drive individual ambition. Apple’s Steve Jobs had a dream of “putting a computer in the hands of everyday people.” He ended up creating the most desirable consumer electronic products of all time. To Jobs, his dreams were his life. “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me… Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me,” declared Jobs.

Dreams are vitally important for nations and societies. The Framers of the American Constitution dreamed an impossible dream, a dream undreamt before they set themselves to dream. They dreamt of a republic with aim of “forming a more perfect union, establishing  justice and securing the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity.”

Unfortunately, their dreams left out Africans forcibly shipped to America and trapped in the nightmare of slavery. A descendant of those slaves by the name of Martin Luther King two centuries later demanded a share of the “American Dream” and immediate payment on the “promissory note” made at the inception of the Republic “that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’”

Sigmund Freud observed “dreams are the royal road to the unconscious,” the substratum below the conscious mind where we sweep and bury our less civilized thoughts and emotions. He also believed dreams are a form of “wish fulfillment”, a process by which the unconscious seeks to resolve deeply buried conflicts. I believe our nightmares are chained deep in our conscious and unchain themselves at will in the darkness of the night.

Dreams are the medium for divinity to pass on sacred revelation and prophecy.  In the Old Testament, God used dreams and visions (“walking dreams”) to make his commands known. God made Solomon an offer in a dream: “Ask what you wish Me to give you.” Solomon chose wisdom, “a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” In Acts, God decreed, “… and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…”

Some Native Americans believe good and bad dreams (nightmares) fly invisibly around in the darkness of the night.  They have  a tradition of  hanging “dream catchers”, a simple handmade object of knotted thread (web) over hoop, over their beds to trap and exclude bad dreams (nightmares) and let in only good dreams. The “dream catchers” symbolize the struggle between good and evil. If we dream of good things, when we wake up in the light of the day we do the right things. But if we choose the path of evil, we will have nightmares and find ourselves on the dark side. Good dreams are in harmony with Nature and the Great Spirit.

There are dreams and there are dreamers. Mahatma Gandhi was dreamer. He taught us to hold onto our dreams. “Always believe in your dreams, because if you don’t, you’ll not have hope,” preached Gandhi.  His advice to dreamers was to keep hope and the dream alive in a crucible of perseverance and determination. He counseled dreamers: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) followed in Gandhi’s footsteps and won. Dr. King’s dream was to see the descendants of “millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice” emerge into “a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.” His dreamt “that one day [America] will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.’” Indeed, he believed it is a self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal.

MLK and Malcom X had profound differences about the “American Dream”.  Malcom said, for “twenty million [negroes] in America who are of African descent, it is not an American dream; it’s an American nightmare.” He was rightfully bitter about the long history of injustice, indignity, discrimination and segregation imposed on African Americans.

MLK advocated pursuit of the “American Dream by” using the “weapon of love” against which resistance is futile.  He promoted civil disobedience in the form of non-violent protests, peaceful non-cooperation with the oppressor and passive resistance as justifiable methods of fighting social injustice. Malcolm wanted to eliminate the “American Nightmare” “by any means necessary”. Then he went to Mecca and realized that what matters is not the color of the skin but the color of the heart. The color of love always outshines the  color of hate.

Nelson Mandela also won following in the footsteps of Gandhi and MLK. Madiba languished in apartheid prisons  for 27 years, head unbowed and unafraid, dreaming about a free South Africa. In his presidential inaugural speech, Madiba proclaimed his dream: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a great dreamer in her own right. She dreamt that all human beings wherever they may be have rights which should be protected by law. She dreamt up the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” [UDHR] (1948) which set a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” with respect to equality, dignity and rights. Mrs. Roosevelt chaired the committee that drafted the UDHR. She is the mother, the unsung she-ro, of the global modern human rights movement. Imagine! Without Eleanor, there would have been no UDHR; and without the UDHR, it is doubtful the plethora of subsequent human rights conventions and regimes would have come into existence.


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