Several times lately, I've gotten messages from readers or Facebook "fans" advising me that speaking out about gay rights or Islamic tolerance isn't a good idea when I'm "putting myself out there trying to sell a book." I admit to being rendered completely speechless by these messages. "If I let selling a book stand in the way of voicing my opinion on things that matter to me," I responded to one woman on Facebook, "then I am surely lost." Unfortunately she would never see that response, having de-friended me immediately after writing her message to me.
What do you care about? What matters most to you? On what topics is your voice invaluable, necessary, potent? What must you say to the world, or you will die? What do only you see in the way that you see it? If you don't know, seek to find what that is.
On YouTube recently, I again saw footage of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. I have found as I've made my way into adulthood in this life of mine that I share his dream. And that I have dreams of my own. Perhaps it is important to articulate our dreams, to know what matters most to us, to see how that changes over time, or doesn't. Here's my dream. You might not share my dream. What's yours?
I have a dream that we won't fool ourselves into thinking Dr. King's dream has been realized. That one day we will stand in lines all night long to find solutions to child abuse and child hunger, just like we stand in line all night to buy iPads, and Harry Potter books, and tickets to the next Star Wars movie. I have a dream that what happened to Matthew Shepard and James Byrd and Lawrence King will never happen to anyone else, that we will never see human beings as abstractions or "whats" but always as "whos," people who are as fully textured as we are, whether they are CEOs or are homeless.
I have a dream that we will wake up and realize the discrimination we impose on our lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, and intersex friends and neighbors is immoral, that we will be as ashamed of it in twenty years as we are of the behavior of our grandparents in the 1950s when they propagated discrimination against blacks. I have a dream that no child will go hungry tonight, no child will be gang-raped in her lifetime, no child will be bullied into killing himself. . . .
I have a dream that we will choose to be optimistic in the face of despair, and naive rather than cynical. That we will all spend a year getting to know someone who scares us, and that we will all recognize we are the storyteller and not just the listener. . . .
I have a dream that we will all sit quietly and very still for just ten minutes every day, that we will learn how to listen half as well as we judge, and that giving becomes our national pastime, not getting.
I have a dream that every lonely child will find a friend who loves her.
I have a dream that we can find commonality amid a glorious celebration of difference, and that we will stop confusing noticing difference with making a judgment. I have a dream that we will consider volunteering to help others less fortunate to be our birthright, not our punishment. . . .
What is your dream? It will come to you, if you don't feel it already. And when it comes, please feel it to your very core, so that when your new friend at college or at your new job asks, "Who are you?," the answer bubbles out of you irrepressibly, like when I watch the inexhaustible Gustavo Dudamel conduct a symphony, jumping to his feet, wild head of floppy black curls flinging back and forth and arms pumping, or when I watch poet-activist Andrea Gibson stand before a microphone, the sheer force of her voice and passion and conviction making her far taller than her petite self. These are people with passion. Yours will express itself in another, different way. Find it. Find it.