I just had a dream. Not like one of those spiritual awakenings people talk about, although this may have followed. Not some idealistic vision of the future like Martin Luther King Jr, although again, maybe this has followed… I was asleep, and I had a dream. In the dream my family and I were in an unknown country, with a large number of other people, queuing up to cross a road. We had just been eating at a restaurant and for some reason we had to go and eat outside, across the other side of this road.

This restaurant scene I’m sure means some outlandish thing about the nature of my subconscious, but this is for Freudians to comment on. Militants, that would not let anybody cross it, however, controlled this road. As people attempted to cross it they were shot or small explosives were thrown at them. Blood covered the road, yet still people were stood, queuing to attempt to make their way across it. Everybody seemed strangely calm in the face of these militants, as though they weren’t the enemy, their control over this road was justified in some way and their methods of controlling it were too. My family and I though, panicked. We ran. And the fear in my mind soon spread into the subconscious world I had created. Everybody was running. Similar to the way one runs from an animal, the animal instinctually chased. The militants ran through the mass of people throwing their small explosives into the crowds. One or two of these explosives hit me and I felt the kind of pain you do in a dream, it hurt until I forgot that it hurt. I kept running. Fear still the overriding emotion within me; self-preservation is a strange priority even when you are dreaming and the threat isn’t real, but it is still as strong as ever. And then, I was cornered.

I will go on to try to explain this dream, not psychoanalyse myself, but possibly show what I think it all means. Firstly, to finish the events in my sleep. The things I did next, when cornered by the militants, with nowhere to run, no one to save me, this appeared to me representative of situations in parts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Face to face with one of the militants, looking for a way out… I asked to join them. My thinking was that if I were on their side, no harm would come to my family or myself. I did not agree with them, or their methods, but I wanted to join them anyway, merely for a way out. The militant laughed in my face, and then sprayed acid at it. The burning was I am sure a hundred times less painful than the reality of such a gruesome attack, but my face was burning. I quickly imagined the scars that would follow, and fear turned instantly into anger. I wanted the militants dead. Any sympathy for their cause, any sight of them as fellow human beings was lost; blind anger filled me, violence was the only way to release it. I ran, face still burning, and shouted to a friend, “Kill the b******s!”. And then I woke up.

Now for the analysis part. Firstly, I asked to join the militants. I didn’t want to, I didn’t agree with them, I was just scared, looking for a way out. I am sure many people in conflict-affected countries do the same; join because of fear. It is a way out. A way to not be the victim, by joining those being the aggressors. This shows how normal people can get dragged into such conflicts, with no other motivating force than fear. Fear though, is the second biggest motivator, anger is much stronger. I was so angry, after being the victim of the acid attack, that I would have done almost anything to get my revenge on the people that harmed me. Anger needs an outlet, violence is that outlet. People in conflict-affected countries I am sure feel anger of the most profound sense. Anger towards their leaders. Anger towards the world. Anger towards each other. I never had much empathy for those committing violent acts anywhere, anytime, but the amount of anger I felt was blinding, reason ceased, anger and violence were my only passions.

You might be thinking, ‘You only had a dream, this doesn’t mean you have any understanding of what it’s really like’. I would respond that having a dream is the only way to experience first-person the things you would never experience in your real life. This gives dreams quite a profound importance as one gets to feel the experience instead of just seeing it on a movie screen or the news. However, I would agree with the commentator. I still have no idea what conflict-affected countries are really like. I still have no idea how I would really behave in such a situation. I still have no idea how much pain, fear and anger is felt. But my dream gave me a window, one that let emotions, as well as light through it, into the world of those suffering, and I did not enjoy the view.

People, like myself, living in Western Europe with no idea of what really goes on, can sit back and watch the news, and hear reports about the suffering, but we don’t really know. There is an empathy gap. Between those that are safe, and those that live in fear. This gap must be bridged before we can all be motivated; not by fear, not by anger, but by compassion.