“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
~ Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) was, above all else, a courageous and dedicated African-American woman. After escaping from slavery in the deep South, she became an activist abolitionist and humanitarian who used a series of safe houses, called the Underground Railroad, to rescue approximately 75 slaves to escape to freedom in the northern states and Canada. After the Civil War she worked to further the cause of female suffrage in the United States.
When considering the life and circumstances that Harriet Tubman and thousands of other slaves endured in many parts of the world, as a 21st century Caucasian living a very comfortable life, I feel so unworthy to talk about this issue. Reading about the suffering and abuses heaped upon these people in history books, does not allow me to understand their plight. However, I strive to learn from records of Harriet Tubman’s life and from her words, how best to conduct my own life in my own time.
Tubman begins, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.” It sounds simple enough, but it’s really quite profound. Dreams don’t just pop out of thin air. They are given birth by the mind and heart of a person who dares to envision a better circumstance – a better life. I used the word “dares” by design because I believe that not everyone will allow themselves to aspire to a great vision. Too many people accept their circumstances with a mental shrug, convinced that there’s nothing they can do to change things.
Yet, consider Harriet Tubman who was all of five feet tall and suffered through debilitating injuries, to dream a great dream. She was a woman of color in a white man’s world, and worse yet, she was among the downtrodden and despised as a slave. How many of us would feel powerless in her place? Tubman had a fire within her that ignited a dream that one day all of her people would live as free human beings. That fire didn’t allow her to dream, rather, it compelled her to dream. She became the dreamer that moved a nineteenth-century nation, and her dream continues to move people, globally, almost two centuries later. That is a great dream!
Tubman was a very special woman, but she did not see herself as someone who was bigger than life. In this quote she admonishes us to maintain our awareness that we all have what it takes to be agents of change. She identifies strength, patience and passion as the key ingredients we need to make great changes. There is nothing ‘otherworldly’ or ‘super-human’ in any of these qualities. She’s urging us to reach back within ourselves and find these gems.
When I see strong people around me, I often wonder why they are strong and others not so much. I used to think that they were lucky and were born with a bigger ‘helping’ of strength. I don’t think that anymore, because, in my own life experience, I can choose to be strong when I wish it. I think that those who appear to be strong have made up their minds to be that way at all times – as a way of living. In the same way, why does a person display a great deal of patience on one day, but not another? Clearly, that person has patience, but has decided to exercise it one day and not on another.
Logically, this leaves us in the realm of attitude. This is our mindset towards other people, our personal circumstances and the world at large. This is what we have control over. Our circumstances do not dictate the course of our life, nor do they dictate our decisions. We live each day and find ourselves reacting to people around us and new sets of circumstances over which we have no control. Our attitude determines how we react and make the choices each day that determine the course of our lives.
That said, people can refuse to dream the great dream because the cost will be too high. Their fear of failure may well deter them. For Harriet Tubman, the price of failure would likely be a brutal death. The fire within her powered through any fear that she felt, and I’m sure there was considerable fear. What was that fire? I believe it was her mindset, her attitude. She decided that the abomination of slavery had to end and she would reach deep within to utilize the strength, the patience, and the passion to drive the actions that were necessary.
I believe that all of us are capable of living the fullest lives possible by following Harriet Tubman’s advice. I remember reading that she said that she could have saved more slaves except that they didn’t know they were slaves. There are different kinds of slavery. Our attitudes can empower or enslave us. All we have to do is choose. Thank you for this gem of wisdom, Harriet Tubman.