“You will eat, bye and bye, In that glorious land above the sky; Work and pray, live on hay, You’ll get pie in the sky when you die” (Joe Hill – 1879-1915)

This quote is originally from the song “The Preacher and the Slave” (1911) by Swedish-American labour activist and songwriter, Joe Hill, which he wrote as a parody of the Salvation Army hymn “In the Sweet By-and-By” (published 1868). The song then criticised the Salvation Army for focusing on peoples’ salvation rather than on their material needs. It warns religion regarding creating false hopes in the hearts of those who are poor. Joe Hill was later martyred and killed by the police. The song became the rallying song of the International Workers of the World, commonly known as “The Wobblies”, who, of course, wanted their “pie” in the form of decent wages and working conditions in this life. The expression was later taken up during the Second World War as it was used to describe elusive happiness in the face of so much death. A Californian newspaper in its November 1939 issue described Washington’s promise to the public about eating solely from war orders as “eating pie from the sky”. More recently, this sentiment was echoed by boxing legend, Muhammad Ali, who was quoted as saying: “You don’t want no pie in the sky when you die, you want something here on the ground while you are still around”.

Today, the phrase “pie in the sky” has come to mean an idea, thought or dream that is extremely unrealistic, even to the point where it begins to seem to be a fantasy. The fanciful notion is seen as a ludicrous concept – the illusory promise of a desired outcome that is unlikely to happen or an unrealistic Utopian plan. Big dreams, however, need not be “pie in the sky” as many can be worked on and accomplished.

We should all have dreams and hopes for the future, plans that we would like fulfilled. There are, however, some principles that guide the realisation of these ambitious goals, the same of which need to be taken seriously if we are to be successful:

  1. Accomplishing “Big Dreams” usually requires a network of influential and trusted people, working together for the dreams to be realised. A network brings collaboration and many different skills to the table, the combined effort of which can make a huge impact.
  2. “Big Dreams” should be selfless in intent – the dream “I want to be very rich and own a yacht” will probably not gather others around you to help you fulfil this goal. The dream “I want to eradicate poverty in a specific town and enable the residents to work towards sustainability” may, however, captivate the hearts of others, who will then join you in this endeavour.
  3. “Big Dreams” should be inclusive rather than exclusive – they need to involve everyone in communities. The idea here is not doing things for others, but rather enabling them to accomplish goals for themselves. Enablement is key for sustainability to be achieved.
  4. “Big Dreams” should be aligned to other projects that are already underway – cooperation is necessary with all stakeholders. Your big dream should not be viewed as competition to other interventions.
  5. “Big Dreams” are not about increasing your own power – big dreams are rather about empowerment, building the self-worth in others and upskilling communities.

Activating a “pie in the sky” notion takes place when the intent of the dream is noble – selfless, compassionate, caring and considerate. As others identify with the passion and honourable intent of the dream, they may well climb on board and assist with the project.

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