A World of Dreams
A Point of View © 1996
By Paul V. Montesino, PhD, MBA, ICCP.
I don’t think I am going against the most basic common sense when I say that we live in a world of dreams. And no, I am not saying that we live in an unreal world either. Regardless of those mystics and philosophers who claim otherwise, my feet are truly firmed on the ground even though sometimes that ground may be shaking.
There was a Spanish poet who lived in the sixteen hundreds and went by the name of Pedro Calderón de la Barca who wrote a famous poem called “Life is a Dream,” “La Vida es Sueño” in Spanish, where he questioned our foolishness for thinking that our blessings or maledictions in life were anything more than dreams.
These are the words at the conclusion of his long and frequently quoted poem:
“What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
a shadow, a fiction,
and the greatest good is small;
that all life is dream,
and dreams, dreams are.”
It is not about what is, but also about what isn’t.
In all the controversies about what our young will learn when they enter colleges or universities, many people and those leaders who try to scare us to get our attention, worry about what those students are going to pick up for the rest of their lives, but I seldom hear about what they are going to discard. Some ambitious legislators want to decide not only what subjects must be taught in college, but also what books should be used. The different need not apply.
Universities are centers of higher learning for the professionals who will give us technical advice about our health, our finances or our legal rights and responsibilities as citizens.
But make no mistake, part of that ability to learn what is, also means they must learn to distinguish what isn’t. There lies, in my opinion, the rub. Places of higher learning don’t necessarily accumulate a lot of facts, many times what they constantly ask themselves is “what if?”
Universities are petri dishes of competing ideas. A Petri dish is a shallow transparent lidded dish that biologists use to hold a growth medium in which cells can be cultured, originally, cells of bacteria, fungi, and small mosses. Many biologists know the results of the mix, many don’t, and some wonder in awe “What if?”. From the “What if” category have emerged the most powerful drugs that make our lives possible.
Don’t fool yourself, many practical ideas, were the result of that basic question. The Wright Brothers asked themselves “What if we could fly?” and today most of us ask only “when” as we stand in line impatiently before boarding our flight at airports all over the world.
Every new school year during my tenure as a university faculty member I was affected by the emotional sights of parents and freshmen as they hugged each other for the last time before the elders went back home and the youngest ahead to their first semester challenges to never be the same. I don’t have to add that in most cases I witnessed tears flowing from their eyes. They were moments that made me proud of my life as an educator.
The parents realized that their offspring, except during short holiday breaks, would be absent from the family. And the students knew that the world they thought was black or white was neither, perhaps both. They would now live with others who looked, sounded, loved, and believed differently. And living with them meant accepting them without judgment.
Trying to block that reality by those who pretend to know better is not only unfair but also abusive.
I believe I have told this story several times. One of my female students who was working as a team member in a semester group project, refused to stand and make a required presentation to the class because, in her “unnamed anonymous” Asian country of origin, women were only allowed to speak when spoken to but never in public. It was considered inappropriate. I sat down with her in my office, and after discussing the situation asked her a simple question: “What if you prepared a speech and delivered it in class?” She hesitated for a moment but then agreed to give it a try.
Her presentation was superb, the whole class applauding wildly, tears coming out of her eyes. She had answered two questions in her mind, not one. “What if I give a speech?” Was the first. “What if I become a woman?” Was the second. Yes on both counts, was the answer. She walked away with those responses, and I never saw her again after the semester ended. But I wonder, “What if “she is now a powerful leader in that country who wouldn’t give her the opportunity to be herself before?
We must never avoid “what if” possibilities if we want the world to move on.
And that is my Point of View today. So Long.