Earlier today, I had the bad fortune of a good friend. Earlier this month, I had the good fortune of a bad friend.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting few people I had not seen in some time, and one of my old friends had brought her child.
At least I think it was a child—once the girl began to speak, even the most unenlightened could hear the echo of an old soul in her young voice. I was chatting happily with someone who is literally one-fifth my age, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most stimulating conversations of which I had partaken in months.
That was, at least, until the child’s mother stepped to the plate.
“You know, she reminds me a lot of you when you were her age,” the mother stated, plainly and without any warmth. “Don’t worry, though. We’ll beat it out of her.”
Undaunted, the little girl was prattling on, while I struggled to maintain the pace. I was nodding at all the appropriate points, and would even occasionally toss in a vocal agreement or two for encouragement, but my brain was wholly consumed with a question:
Did the mother mean it literally when she said she would “beat it out of her?”
I honestly did not believe then, nor do I believe now, that the little girl was in any physical danger. If that was, in fact, the case, then another question—far more sinister in its implications—slithered into my mind:
Was I a mistake?
It’s one thing to regard oneself as a failure, but even then at least one can honestly say an effort was given. It’s completely different when one is pronounced a failure but reassured that it was nothing that he or she did, removing hope along with causality.
Over the years, I had grown accustomed to the occasional barbs of prejudice, of conformists regarding me with everything from curiosity to outright disdain. I have shouldered my fair share—and possibly more—of disgust and disappointment on the faces of those with whom I interacted.
But to be told I was nothing more than the remnants of an experiment gone wrong, of a tactic which misfired—that was truly one of the greatest horrors that I have ever endured.
For the second time this year, the anger over the remark had dissipated almost as soon as it had appeared, replaced, again, by something I never thought I would feel for this woman, this mother:
I was sorry for her, that she saw intellect as something which needed to be eradicated rather than encouraged. I felt sorry for the little girl, knowing the struggle that she would face as she grew older, yet sure that she had the strength to weather the storm.
Come to think of it, I believe that was the last day I saw the sun in Atlanta, until today, when another friend—a different friend—joined me for a light dinner of heavy Mexican food.
Conversation wandered as usual, and we came around to the topic of social programming, specifically those policies instituted by President Johnson (and others of political influence in that era.) Topics such as these are not uncommon in our dialogues, although tonight’s chat seemed to be touched by… something. I did not know what that “something” was—it was just at the tips of the edges of the fringes of the idea of the talk—but I knew it was there.
We talked about the rise of the Common Core (and the real difference between 3+3+3+3+3 and 5+5+5) and the death of the Socratic Method. We talked about how a society requires structure and architecture to function, to survive, to endure. I pointed out that societies also need the dreamers, the “greater fools” who aspired to something greater, something more… something.
But you can’t have that in society, he had said. The hive cannot function without its drones.
Unfortunately, my friend is right—we have started to lose our way, and we have fallen into the trap that seems to squelch the individual for the sake of the group, and we have forgotten how to be individual and inclusive simultaneously.
We need to reclaim that skill if we are going to not only survive, but thrive. Both as individuals and as a group we must be able to dream and think, not just one or the other. Our society will seek to carve away the ones who dream, they are nothing more than the remainder of an equation, and must be discarded to make the machine fall into balance. It seems that with each subsequent generation, there are fewer dreamers, fewer “greater fools” to sell short and buy long, to risk everything on the chance that there might be a better way, that there might be another way.
I am one of those dreamers, those greater fools. And to all the other ones out there—including that little girl with whom I had such a stimulating conversation—you are not alone. Don’t forget how to dream, and don’t worry if you dreams actually come true.
All that means is you get to dream about something new.