In episode 283 of the Happier podcast, I recommended the brilliant, hilarious, poignant, page-turning memoir Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood (Amazon, Bookshop, by Trevor Noah, who’s a comedian and host of the TV show The Daily Show on Comedy Central.
You’ve probably heard of the book or already read it—it was a #1 New York Times bestseller and was named as one of the best books of the year by the New York Times, NPR, and Booklist, among others.
Since I read it, I’ve found myself referring often to one particular passage that really stuck in my mind.
Trevor Noah described how even with all the restrictions of apartheid, his mother took him on all sorts of adventures. He writes, “My mother took me places black people never went.” He recounts how they drove through fancy neighborhoods, they went to the ice-skating rink, they went to the drive-in movie theater that gave him a 360-degree view of the city at the top of a huge hill, they went all over. He adds, “My mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do.”
And here is the passage that really struck me.
Trevor Noah continues:
We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited. Growing up in Soweto, our dream was to put another room on our house. Maybe have a driveway. Maybe, someday, a cast-iron gate at the end of the driveway. Because that is all we knew. But the highest rung of what’s possible is far beyond the world you can see. My mother showed me what was possible. The thing that always amazed me about her life was that no one showed her. No one chose her. She did it on her own. She found her way through sheer force of will.
That observation—“you can only dream of what you can imagine”—is so profound.
I wonder if the internet will be a force for good in this way. Can it help people to dream bigger because they can imagine more because the internet has shown it to them?
I hope so.