I have a friend who as a child glimpsed the possibility that he might be dreaming all the time. Everyone has had that "is this a dream?" sensation. Most of us shake it off. He didn’t. Not really.
What got my friend was the fact that he couldn’t prove that he wasn’t dreaming. The fact that it didn’t feel like he was dreaming wasn’t proof that he wasn’t dreaming. After all, his dream might consist in the conviction that he wasn’t dreaming.
He told me this matter of factly over dinner. And I’m glad we were in a restaurant. Because now infected by his epistemological panic, I felt the urge to start screaming, boxing my ears and carrying on like a deeply frightened, crazy person, and this sort of thing is frowned upon in the Harvard part of Cambridge. (In the MIT part of Cambridge, it is of course completely ok.)
Which brings me to Reverend Wright. What must it be like to be him this morning? On Monday, he gave his National Press Corps, a spirited defense of his religion, his church and his politics. The next day he wakes up to discover that Obama calling his performance a "spectacle" and "a bunch of rants,", black leaders calling him a "narcissist" and the New York Times editorial accusing him of "racism and paranoia."
If you saw the performance on Monday, you know that Reverend Wright will be astonished by this criticism. He spoke as a man who believed in his own grandeur, his centrality in the larger of schemes, the urgency with which the American polity required his guidance. In sum, it was clear that here was a guy who lived in a bubble, who lived in a dream. And this morning, he woke up.
Wright had no idea that he lived in a dream, I guess, because he must be surrounded by people who keep congratulating him on being so darned magnetic. Indeed, the dream was really well insulated. (Without an ethnographic investigation I wouldn’t want to say what the R value was exactly, but we have to know it’s high.) It took national exposure, following by almost unanimous criticism to bring him around. (We must hope it brought him around.)
There is a second, haunting possibility. And that is that Reverend Wright was actually engaged in dream defense. Now that African Americans have served as head of state, head of the military, and may yet serve sometime quite soon as the President, a pastor could be forgiven feeling that his very mandate to preach the way he does, his very self created centrality in the community, has been thrown in question. Maybe Reverend Wright was engaged in sabotage against the man who’s candidacy inflicted sabotage on his own place in the world.
Let’s go with the first interpretation, if only because it’s more Christian. Which brings me back to my theme. Reverend Wright was dreaming and he couldn’t tell he was dreaming and there was nothing in his world that was going to let him out of his bubble, back into the world. It’s easy to look at this as a catastrophe happening to someone else, a very bad dream, as it were, that couldn’t possibly happen to us.
But in point of fact, anyone of us could be caught in a dream. And this is especially true if we are CEOs. Every corporation has a culture. The upside of this culture is that it supplies a set of assumptions and understandings which when well tuned to the world help us navigate and negotiate its complexities. But when its wrong, it puts us at odds with the world. It captures us in a dream that even really good spreadsheets can puncture. Reverend Wright looks like a particularly tragic figure, but there are lots of CEOs who are "living his dream." They are merely waiting for the moment to wake up.
Anonymous. 2008. Mr. Obama and Rev. Wright. Editorial. New York Times. April 30, 2008. here.
The Wikipedia article on Reverend Wright here.
“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly, I awoke, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming that I am now a man.”
Chuang Tzu C400 BC.
Maybe there’s no waking up for some of us, evidently some of us can’t tell the difference between dreams and reality. I think the problem for the Reverend Wright is that for him, the dream/reality conundrum has been answered and it’s not gone the way he would’ve chosen had he had the choice.
I don’t know whether it’s so much living in a dream as it is living in his own world oblivious to what’s going on outside of it.
I think we are all like that to some extent. We live by the rules and conventions of our own little worlds and have different levels of success making the necessary adjustments as we move from one world to another (work, home, parent’s ..). The more we get out and about the better we generally are at making these shifts.
The Rev’s problem is that he didn’t get out that much and suddenly found himself a long way from home. Isn’t his issue a bit Chauncey Gardinerish?