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Op-ed: What It Means to Struggle for Your Dreams

Op-ed: What It Means to Struggle for Your Dreams


"Wow, you can do it, just keep on going!" was the reaction from an American in Utah to the dream a friend and I have of opening a film studio. Not "Now, are you sure that is wise? You can't just go ahead and do something like that," which was the response from a good friend in Britain. Facial expressions were also dramatically different: a broad smile and wide eyes from the American; raised eyebrow and an eventually kind smile from the Brit -- a smile usually afforded a child when he says he wants to be an astronaut. These two friends broadly represent the dueling national attitudes toward our dream, and toward dreaming itself. I have been to many countries and been fortunate to live in a few of them. Each handles dreams in its own way.

After living in India for two years, I moved back to London last year. It is a city that should surely be the zenith of human aspiration. London is known internationally for everything from culture to finance; it is a bustling metropolis where both history and modernity make very compatible bedfellows. Harvey Nichols typifies London's material perfection. The department store offers not just shopping but idylls. On the ground floor you can be coutured, on the second floor manicured, and on the top floor dined in Michelin-star grace. All the attendants are chiseled and the lighting at all times flattering. It is the place beauty goes.

And not only is it the most accepting society I've found in the world for gay people, but also its boys are very pretty. Throw in Shakespeare and Catherine Middleton, and it would seem that London is a pure utopia, although a sometimes rainy one.

But despite all this abundance, I can't help but find London dull. I can't quite kill this feeling that something is missing. It's something that, despite all its social tragedy and inequality, India has more of -- dreams.

Living in India made me realize that even when people have nothing, they still have their dreams, and it's often what keeps them alive. For many in India, poverty is a crippling reality, so as they scavenge for their next meal, they dream of a life in which surviving is just that bit easier. But even those that do "have" still dream of having more, and they engage in a daily battle with hope, fighting for that better life. It is that fight which is not only infectious but also signifies the developing world.

My driver, Rakesh, was consumed by not only his dreams but also those he had for his children. He was determined that their lives would not be blighted by the restrictions he endured. He was born into a low-caste family in rural India, a fate without much chance of escape. So in addition to working for me, Rakesh had a small farm and a growing share portfolio. He wouldn't rest for a second in his furious campaign to better his life and that of his family, and to break free.

India's recent history is defined by an independence struggle and the national turmoil that goes along with it. Indians dreamed of something new for their nation and fought to achieve it. Maybe it is this spirit that is still alive; struggle breeds dreams.

Many of the people I met in London have that quality which makes them pleasant but so very boring: They are content with their current lot. They can only think of incremental improvements to their lives and have decided that "dreaming" is not for them. Their hopes are modest; their aspirations are even less so. I find it difficult to understand them.

Britain is a highly developed society. The state ensures that its citizens are never too close to suffering, be it with income support during times of unemployment or comprehensive free health care. This is not to be criticized. I believe it is the duty of a developed society to ensure that none of its people ever have to endure poverty. But maybe because of this safety net the need to dream is diminished, and the comfort of daily life fools us into believing that we need strive no more. Britain is unique in that in its last 500 years it has not had revolution, occupation, or colonization of its mainland. It has fought off invasion, as recently as the last century, but these moments of struggle and their lessons have begun to fade. It has had no French revolution, a moment that clearly separated the old from the new. Its current national principles are not born out of victory over struggle.

Britain also is a subtle society -- reserved and collected. It has a historical record of achievement yet holds a pragmatic view of progress and prefers the practical over the ethereal, and it doesn't really understand heroes so tends to knock them down as opposed to hold them up as examples of what we can achieve.

The young people who are currently hurling flame throwers and setting the streets of Britain alight are not doing it because they are bored, but because they have nothing to believe in. In these economic straight times, when opportunity has been paired to the bone, individual dreams and even national dreams are often the only fail-safes, but when dreams are discouraged and hope is not endorsed, rage could be the only option left.

There are pockets of dreamers in London, and there always have been. I came across a small colony when I took a job behind a bar. That pub seemed like a pit stop for dreamers. Almost every member of the staff had dreams that they were determined to live. Juan dreamed of being a championship body builder, Ricky a chef, and for Yana films were her dreamland. It was more than just a two-foot-wide piece of oak that separated the customers and those who served them; it was also their hopes for life. And beyond the small pub in North London, the British dreamers exist in sports through to business -- defined by both their unswerving determination and their rarity.

America is different. I was recently in the U.S., and wherever I went, be it wind-lashed Chicago or the snow-smothered Utah, I saw a nation that was moving, refusing to stand still, and forever mobile toward, at times, a national dream. It was contagious, and I caught it bad. I was totally taken by the spirit of both the place and the people. It is a country built on dreams and forever enhanced by new ones. I don't know whether it is because of the waves of immigrants welcomed each year or the successful businessmen who, having made it big once, dream of doing it again and again. In the U.S. there seems to be no nobler vocation than to be dreamer. Be it Elvis Presley, Barack Obama, or Amelia Earhart, these people dreamed beyond what they should and won anyway. Perhaps it is because the wealthiest nation on earth has still not provided full social safeguards and therefore struggle is within earshot, or because, like India, it is a nation forged out of struggle. But whatever the reason, Americans on the whole know how to strive, dream, and take dramatic leaps upward in life.

The more countries I visit and the more people I meet, I am sure that it is struggle, be it national or personal, which determines our propensity to dream. The gay community is one currently involved in a struggle, a struggle for acceptance and of equality. I think because of that we dream that bit harder and that bit higher. Whether or not it is because we hope to dream out of our struggle, we are a community with more than our fair share of dreamers and indeed, achievers, as The Advocate's list of innovators demonstrates. Internationally, the gay community is being defined by its growing power and presence. From boardrooms to cabinet rooms, we are there.

I am from a family of immigrants who escaped the struggle of India more than 50 years ago. The drive and dreams that they brought along with their tatty luggage all those years ago seem to be with them still today, and maybe it is because of them I feel in the minority in London.

The riots and fires will die down and fizzle away and soon life will get back to normal. What will always smolder, however, is the discontent the rioters feel, a discontent only neutralized by having a dream to believe in. Sadly, the British government and society will not understand this and will put down the violence of the "revolting youth." The notion of dreams will continue to receive its patronizing frown. And so as I sit in one of its wonderful bars and gaze at all around me, I will keep my mind on our film studio, not on the dissenting voices, and I shall not rest from my struggle until I have chased the dream and lived every second of it.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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