The Dreams We Dream Together


Atle Hetland

I have borrowed the heading for my article today from the renowned Swedish writer Niklas Rådström’s latest book entitled ‘Drömmerna vi tillsammans drömmer’, the dreams we dream together. His new book is about positive thinking in all situations, even when sudden and unwanted changes happen. He says that when he in his mid-sixties was diagnosed with leukemia cancer and needed a stem cell transplant, he was first scared about it all, but then he began to look at it all with curiosity as well. Although it sounds quite unreal, I have heard that others react in similar ways, maybe out of necessity and being thankful for life going on even when things aren’t all that good. Rådström says he felt like he had been given a second chance on earth and a time to focus on the important things that he had earlier often overlooked.
In several recent articles, I have written about wars and conflicts, well, also about peace negotiation issues – in Ukraine, Gaza, and elsewhere. Such issues are certainly important, but also depressing and almost hopeless. If we only focus on the negative aspects, we may miss to see the positive in the midst of it all, and that is where solutions lie. So today, inspired by Rådström, I shall change gears and write about more positive things, not that wars and conflicts should be put aside but rather the opposite. Yet, if we dream about the positive things together, perhaps then we have a better chance to discover them.
We must realize, as Rådström does in his book, that people at all times have been able to find solutions to terrible mistakes in the past and difficulties in their own time – as people did after the two terrible world wars in the last century, during the Cold War, and when that ended. Perhaps we turned a bit too self-complacent and careless, though, especially in the 1990s, and therefore let issues drift in the wrong directions, and now that is evidenced by new international tensions and conflicts between Russia and the West, negative rearmament in the NATO countries, and more. If we had focused on harmony-creation and peace-building between nations, then we might not have been in the negative and downward spiral we currently are in. Like Rådström, I want to be both realistic and practical, and philosophical and dreaming, when looking at today’s issues and especially the future. If we think more about how we can contribute to the future, in simple and small ways, and in complicated and big ways, then we will be more likely and able to find solutions, as human beings have always been able to.
Now then that Rådström has recovered from his illness, and has been given some more time. He claims he is all right, and he escaped the Corona pandemic, too, being careful, most of the time just staying in his garden and writing on his computer indoors. He has taken stock of the past and present and is thinking about the future. Most things are good, he says, and contributing to that is his grandson, who was born just at the time when he fell ill. In his book, Rådström reflects on the future, no less than seventy years ahead, when his grandson will be about the age he himself is now. In the book, it is a woman, Bodil, who is his heroin, a Greta Thunberg type of tomorrow, although Rådström says he has also borrowed a few leaves from a couple of other models, and they do indeed manage to solve the big problems of their time.
He says that many times, we make the problems bigger than they actually are. Yet, we also know that every generation must find solutions to the problems of their time, and they do that. The dreams we dream together, of a better world of tomorrow, will indeed be possible, yes, if we really focus on it. Rådström’s own grandson, and his heroin Bodil in the book, are likely to be part of a generation that will do better than the grandfather’s and father’s generation have done, especially as for environmental issues, climate change and global warming. We must not think that change is too late, says Rådström; we must just let those who are young now, take over and come up with new and better solutions. We must believe in the positive aspects, and in the old values of love for each other and the world around us.
True, there are also dark clouds in the sky, especially such that concern rearmament in the West, wars, and conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza, Sudan, Yemen, and elsewhere. But wars are created by people and can be solved by people, if the political, economic, and social systems are right, and if profit hunger and inequality are kept under control. Everywhere, we must fight for the renewal of more and better democratic systems and people’s participation. Nothing happens by itself; change and improvement only come through people’s efforts, love, and prayer.
Thinking positively, and drawing lessons from success, let me draw attention to Northern Ireland. It is now a quarter century since ‘the Troubles’, the three warlike decades from the late 1960s to 1998. Finally, it seems that the people are now actually realizing that they are all quite alike, just belonging to different branches of the same Christian religion, and sometimes also with different earthly riches and powers. The arrogance of the Anglicans with closer UK links is diminishing now when the Catholics are in the majority also in Northern Ireland, like in the rest of the island, the Republic of Ireland. It is not unlikely that the two entities may merge in the future, yes, in a country where orthodox faith has also become less important than before. Already, university students in Northern Ireland study, do sports, and go to parties together, telling their parents that they are all much the same. Besides, now when the UK is out of the EU, a united Northern Ireland may benefit from its EU membership. In our time, we should also begin to realize that national borders are not all that important and that countries can cooperate very well within and across borders; just look at how well the Nordic countries do nowadays, a few hundred two hundred years since they were often at loggerheads. Also, the new countries created after Yugoslavia were split up, and cooperated well; sometimes, old colonies and their former rulers work well together, probably more often than we think.
Thus, it is not impossible that the dreams we dream together will come true in many places of the world, and that there will be more equality and fairness between and within countries. It will not happen by itself, but it can happen if we work for it. Rådström says his sudden illness, his recovery, and a feeling of getting a second chance, shook him up and helped him think clearer about what is important for him – and indeed for his newborn grandson, and for Bodil, the heroin in his book, and for all the young people who will indeed make the world a better place provided they focus on it. That we know, and it will help if we support them and pray for them. Then the dreams we dream together can become reality.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid. He can be reached at