‘I am so excited, in a way that I haven’t felt since I was first elected…I, we, are prepared to dream that this could be possible’. This is not usually the sort of language you expect to hear from a Westminster politician. But these are the words of Heidi Allen, conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire. On Wednesday, she, along with two other prominent women parliamentarians, announced they were leaving the Conservative party and going to sit in parliament as independents. They joined eight Labour MPs who had left their own party shortly before.
What they claim in common is the wish to move away from the extreme thinking which they believe is taking over their respective parties. These MPs want to form a moderate middle ground in British politics which is in touch with the lives of ordinary people and not driven by deeply partisan concerns. It is a high-risk strategy. Such breakaway groups have rarely been successful in challenging the UK’s traditional binary political system.
But enough of British politics. Our theme this week is ‘the courage to dream’. Perhaps the most important ‘dreamer’ of modern times was Martin Luther King. His ‘I have a dream’ speech delivered in 1963 evoked a world where the colour of a person’s skin, which side of the tracks they came from, was unimportant. Is his dream is being fulfilled? As white people, we’re not sure we have the right to judge. But we do admire and share that dream.
Because it’s not just people in the public eye who have dreams. We all have dreams. We all long for a better world where there is justice, equality and mutuality. But we all face multiple temptations to allow ideals to fade and wither as we encounter disappointments. When we hope and work for ideals which fail, our dreams can be extinguished slowly and silently. Cynicism is often the result.
And some of our dreams are very personal. Maybe that is why, when we do get around to talking about our dreams, we often find it difficult to say what really matters to us. We rarely actually use the ‘d’ word. We tend to talk about ‘standards’ or ‘values’ or ‘principles’. To say, ‘I dream of a world in which men and women respect each other,’ seems far too self-revealing. ‘Dream on!’ is very likely to be the response!
Of course, we all need people who will anchor us in the sometimes-harsh realities of life. At the same time, it can be a lazy response to rush in with a ‘yes but…’, a ‘get real…’ or other dismissive phrase.
If we believe in changing the world even on a micro scale, we all need people who listen not just to the words we say but to the spaces between the words. Words can be spoken clumsily sometimes. Careful listening and gentle questioning can help us to do two things: first to speak out our dreams. And then to identify and take the first practical steps towards making them a reality. We do each other a valuable service when we take the time in the waking, rushing world to listen for and try to understand each other’s dreams.
‘Tread softly for you tread on my dreams’, said the Irish writer W.B.Yeats. Treading softly is a rare service we can offer each other. John Lennon was right: ‘You may say I’m a dreamer but I am not the only one…’
Listen out for dreams, not least your own, for dreams give life. Maybe even in the gnarled world of British politics today.