Most of us have had the experience of excitedly sharing a dream with someone only to receive negative feedback about why it won't work. If we're honest, most of us have also had the experience of hearing someone else's dream and immediately putting it down, almost without thinking. How many of us have been encouraged to follow our dreams wherever they lead us? And how many dreams have we decided to abandon because the people we love tell us it's a bad idea?
It always seems to be the people closest to us who put the most effort into killing our dreams. This is almost counterintuitive; shouldn't the people who love us the most be our most ardent supporters? And shouldn't we be among the loudest voices of encouragement cheering on the people we love? Why do we have such a hard time doing something that seems like it should be natural?
I won't pretend to know the answer to this, but I do have some ideas:
1. Selfishness: We discourage someone else's dreams because it interferes with our own interests. For example, it is not uncommon for a parent to have dreams for her child before he is even born. Parents have their own ideas about what their child should do with his life; these ideas are completely independent of what the child wants for himself. Parents often have beliefs about what constitutes success for their child, how their child should behave, where he should live, and what hobbies he should pursue. If the child has dreams that are inconsistent with what his parents want for him, the parents might discourage the child from pursuing these aspirations. Another example of deterring someone else's dream for selfish reasons might be discouraging a coworker from trying for a promotion because you want the promotion for yourself.
2. Jealousy: A friend shares her dream with us. It sounds great. In fact, it is something we want for ourselves. We doubt, however, that we could ever achieve this dream. We can't stand the thought of our friend achieving something we really want for ourselves but could never have; we'd be overcome with envy! Nobody likes to feel jealous (or inferior), so we disparage our friend's dream and discourage her from chasing it.
3. Guilt: The goal someone else is pursuing is one we should be pursuing ourselves. Unfortunately, we lack the motivation, self discipline, or whatever else we need to start working on the goal. We feel guilty about our own inaction when we see someone else working hard and actually making progress towards this goal. If, however, we can distract or deter this person from the pursuit of his goal we won't feel quite so bad. "No, I haven't lost any weight yet, but neither has Tom."
4. Genuine concern for the other person: Your loved one is chasing a dream that is going nowhere (or nowhere good). His goal is completely unrealistic, very dangerous, self destructive, or an otherwise bad idea. In short, your loved one is headed down the wrong path and you're concerned for his well being. You don't want to see him hurt, whether physically, financially, spiritually, or emotionally. You feel obligated to share your concerns with him, at the very least. Some of us feel obligated to do more. We might try to dissuade him from pursuing his chosen course or even to create obstacles to try to deter him. There is certainly nothing wrong with urging a loved one to use caution. The key in this situation is to know when to stop. Providing that the person in question is an adult, in the end he is free to make his own decisions -- even if they are bad decisions. There comes a point when you've said all you can say and have done all you can do. When you reach this point, your job is to accept the decision your loved one has made (regardless of whether or not you approve). Sometimes people have to learn from their own mistakes.
5. Reality testing: Let's face it. Some people have dreams that are so far fetched they could never become reality. Perhaps such dreams would be more accurately described as fantasies. Personally, I would feel bad encouraging someone to chase a dream he has absolutely no chance of ever achieving. It is important, however, to distinguish between having fantastical goals that have no basis in reality and having "big dreams" that, while it might be a long shot, could possibly be attained. Some people dream big and are willing to work hard to try to make their dream a reality. Most of us are inclined to give such people a "reality check." We are quick to point out that the odds are stacked against them. We encourage them to focus on "more realistic" goals. But where would the world be without big dreamers? People beat the odds all the time, with amazing results. Don't discourage someone you love from "dreaming big." You might, however, want to encourage them to have a back up plan, just in case it doesn't work out.
6. Pessimism: Pessimism is the tendency to expect the worst. It is characterized by a lack of hope or confidence in the future. Some people are pessimistic by nature; others have had bad experiences and have learned to view life negatively as a result. A pessimist is a pessimist, either way. If a person is a pessimist, it won't be a secret to the people who know him. Pessimism is not really something you can hide; it's an attitude that will reveal itself in almost everything you say and do. If you want someone to encourage and support you as your pursue your dreams, a pessimist is not your guy. Share your dreams with a pessimist and you can expect that he'll tell you all the reasons it will never work; negativity is a pessimist's default response to everything.
As with so many things, I think the important thing is to become more aware of how you respond when someone shares their hopes and dreams with you. Pay attention to your responses over time; are they unique to each situation or are they habitually the same?
It is also important to be selective in choosing the people you talk to about your hopes and dreams. When you know a person well enough you can often predict how they will respond when you reveal your deepest desires. If the person is always negative, you can assume he will have negative feedback about your goals. If the person is typically supportive, she will probably be supportive. If she isn't, you should listen to her concerns and take them into consideration.
For readers: Do you tend to be supportive when someone shares his dreams with you? Have you ever shared your aspirations with someone and not gotten the response you expected? Is there anyone you would absolutely never share your hopes and dreams with? Why?