In an excellent article, the Huff Post’s Dominique Mosberger wrote about imagining a world without polio. She cited the recent 2017 World Polio Day presentation that envisioned the end of this crippling, debilitating disease within months, not in decades or years. Thanks to the generous contribution of billions of dollars by the Gates Foundation and Rotary International (as well as the countless, untiring efforts of scientists, healthcare professionals, NGOs, governmental entities, volunteers, and many others), we can now see a clear end-in-sight for the devastation of polio globally. In a world where few serious diseases are actually cured these days (let alone eradicated), this is, indeed, a stunning and amazing accomplishment.
This didn’t happen by accident. Nor by dreaming. But as a result of the focused courage, dedication, risk-taking, and an undaunted commitment to specific targets and milestones. When we hear about achievements like defeating polio, we harken back to September 12, 1962. Then-President John F. Kennedy spoke at Rice University in Houston, Texas. With great insight, he stated that things are not created or built by those who ‘wait’ and ‘rest’ and look ‘behind’. But by those who move forward. By those who actually move the needle of specific change. On that day, he announced the incredible, audacious goal of reaching the moon by the end of the decade of the 60’s. He said,
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because the goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one that we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”
Think about conquering polio. And landing humans on the moon’s surface. Great wins, without a doubt. Then contrast these specific, measurable, and highly courageous milestones of human progress with the recent notion of ‘Not Yet’. Not Yet is viewed by some as a new way to ‘measure’ student progress in the classroom around tests and projects. It’s, in effect, a substitute for giving grades in many respects. It’s seen as a far more humane and motivating way to engage students. To combat our children’s need for constant validation around getting A’s. About eliminating grade-based affirmation systems (with their built-in winners and losers) and the corresponding sense of failure by students who receive D’s and F’s on their report cards. It’s intended to foster better student resilience, effort, perseverance, continuous learning, and ongoing improvement—as students strive to move steadily from Not Yet to Yet over time.
While undoubtedly well intended (and supported by some research), it’s unrealistic for already burdened teachers. More importantly, it sends the wrong message to our children (and our leaders of tomorrow): that participating is the main thing. That everyone gets a trophy for continuing to try. That we’re all winners in school and in life. That we never really fail because we’re only Not Yet. In truth, though, this very theory that’s meant to counter a sense of failure in our children actually embeds that failure more permanently into their very souls. Because it fosters that notion that a vague Not Yet is good enough for the moment. Yet they’ve not really gotten to Yet either. Perhaps they never will. Who knows? Because even if they reach Yet, what in the world does Yet mean anyway? And, by the way, Not Yet/Yet isn’t just happening in the classroom with our school children. It feels like it’s seeping more broadly into our adult culture every day as well.
A world of Not Yet/Yet contrasts sharply with one of measurable goals and progress. With clear milestones to reach or not reach. It’s like the difference between ‘dreaming’ and ‘imagining’. Dreams are a series of thoughts, images, or sensations occurring in someone’s mind. It’s an act of relatively passive contemplation, conception, or thought. Conversely, imagining something is to believe something currently not real already exists or ‘is’ in some way. It’s, therefore, an act of assuming or pre-supposing. It’s an active expectation or assumption. As such, it’s far more concrete, specific, and actionable than mere dreams. And in a world that desperately requires courage, leadership, and focus to meet our numerous pressing problems, we don’t need dreams as much as we need clear-headed vision.
Now to be fair, we all need to dream every so often. It opens our unbridled creativity, curiosity, and hope for the future. Unstructured dreaming informs us that all things are sacred, no matter how whimsical and magical. Dreaming helps us to manage our stress, anxiety, and the pressures of our daily existence—creating a mental and emotional safety valve. And it reinforces the spiritual truth that we are all special and unique. We can all dream, no matter our circumstances and contexts. Finally, the God-given gift of conscious dreaming reminds us that God wants wonderful things for us all. Wants us to creatively hope for marvelous possibilities. Because each of us is very special and loved in God’s eyes. All that said, though, we can’t ‘live’ in our dreams.
And here’s the reason: the spiritual fact that we’re all loved and special doesn’t correspondingly mean that everything is good enough. That we’ll all get a trophy for showing up to the ‘Not Yet Fest’. No. To the contrary. Our grounding as inherently worthy persons should be a launch-pad for venturing out in faith in specific, courageous ways. Exercising our agency, accountability, and self-empowerment as tools to succeed. Even if we actually fail at times along the way. Now admittedly and tragically, too many of our fellow brothers and sisters are hindered in this regard due to unjust, hateful discrimination, marginalization, rejection, sickness, grief, or other considerations. When we see this happening, we need to bear witness to the obstacles and come alongside them. To extend ourselves to others. To foster progress, justice, healing, and real, substantive hope using all of our energies and skills in disciplined and organized ways. To free up capacity for making this world a far better, fairer, caring place for all of us.
So, what’s the import and sum of all this? First, Not Yet is a misguided form of pandering to our insecurities and fragile ‘egos’. Worse yet, it values process over real progress. Second, dreaming is only a starting point. It’s never the end-game. For our souls beg for concrete fulfillment. Third and finally, we are inherently loved and valued as human ‘beings’. But we have to do something with that. Our grounding grace and love should supply us with the assurance and courage to ‘get out there’ and ‘put it all on the line’. To affirmatively choose to ‘take a stand’ in life. As fully invested, active, accountable partners with a Transcendent, Creator God in doing something spectacular that actually transcends ourselves as individuals. Not because it’s easy. But because it’s hard. With real risks. But also with real, tangible, and specific rewards. Those who choose this path decide to Look Forward and Move On. Conversely, those who choose otherwise decide to simply Dream On… in the never-ever land of Not Yet.
What do you choose today?