I was re-reading an old favorite last week, and ran across a phrase that struck me as worth thinking about. The book was "Not So Wild a Dream," penned in 1946 by the late Eric Sevareid, one of Ed Murrow’s "boys," as they were known. The book, if you can find it, is worth reading both for Sevareid’s recounting of his early life, life as a foreign correspondent and reporter for CBS News during World War II, and for his use of language.
Severide talks about a "dangerous conspiracy of goodwill," which got me thinking about what that really meant. In today’s world there seems to be some lack of such a conspiracy, wouldn’t you say? And it’s not just the politicians. We see it on television, of course, in what passes for news reporting, and we read it on the internet in those "public" private spaces we circulate so freely. But the word that really made me stop and think about this is "dangerous." What could be dangerous about such a conspiracy, and for whom?
If we begin to care about each other, we might want to stop those who want us to hate each other. People who do not show goodwill do not applaud another’s success, only their failure. Those who promote that idea, the idea that only one value, one image is the only acceptable success or the only approved version of the world, leave no room for one of the most important values civilization can confer: growth.
The ability to grow, and thereby change, is a very human characteristic. It is essentially human because to change, to grow, requires that human ability to see beyond the moment, to see around an object or an idea, to explore the sides and top and bottom of a concept or belief. It’s not like looking at a stick and deciding how it can be used to open a clam or knock a cocoanut from a tree. That’s only three-dimensional thinking. We humans possess a kind of vision that is more than stereoscopic, combining the ability not only to see, but to project what we see on other screens, other minds, other selves.
One of the things that drives me as a writer is the hope that my words will somehow contribute to understanding of, and perhaps acceptance of, other people, other times and other ideas.
A "conspiracy of goodwill" might be, in Sevareid’s words, not so wild a dream. It is just that in the darkness of our own times we are more likely to have nightmares instead.