by Jean Houston
Vision incites the courage to be, to act, to succeed. It gives us the passion for the possible. Vision is also the picture of the future, the promised land, whether it is Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt or Martin Luther King Jr. offering a land where people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Our future is not Armageddon, nor need it be a crazy patchwork quilt of Band-Aids covering insoluble problems. Our future can be a unique civilization that honors diversity, moves from fixing to finding, from debate to conversation, from despair to discovery, nonviolence as a way of life and the maintenance of contracts between ever larger groups. Our future can be the New Story.
The architecture of change requires new guiding principles, new methods and new infrastructures. We know that the state of the art in many areas such as education, health care, negotiation, is very high, while the application lags far behind. I am reminded of the marvelous words of Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour, falls from the sky a meteoric shower of facts...they lie unquestioned, uncombined. Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill is daily spun; but there exists no loom to weave it into fabric."
The loom I think is that of the imagination-- yours, mine, ours. It will take a creative, an imaginative leap to reweave the threads of education, healthcare, technology, media, employment, politics, welfare, politics and the environment into the pattern that bridges us into a better world. I remember the power of John Lennon's song, "Imagine" and I wonder at the of group that encourages each other to imagine and then create a finer society.
Imagine, for example, the past, when economics was but one image among the multiple images of a society's concerns; only now has it occupied center stage with all other concerns being considered as satellites. Perhaps if we change the image in our own minds, and put it back where it was for so long -- a satellite to the soul of culture, instead of the soul of culture being a satellite to economics, we can begin to restore some sense of balance in ourselves as well.
Imagine a style of education, which, in an age as complex as ours requires that students learn how to learn, how to think, and to do that with the many kinds of intelligence that are ours. In many years of observation I have never met a stupid child but I have met many stupid and debilitating, and yes, even brain-damaging, systems of education. As we have discovered, a child can learn almost anything and pass the standard if she is dancing, tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, and feeling information. She can delight in doing so because she is using much more of her mind-brain-body system than conventional teaching generally permits. So much of the failure in school and home stems directly from boredom, which itself stems directly from the larger failure to stimulate and not repress all those wonder areas in the child's brain and soul that could give him so many more ways of responding to her world and therefore becoming capable of envisioning a different future for themselves and others. Additionally, schools can model a civilized society: realistic training for employment and community involvement combined with zero tolerance for racism, sexism, violence and psychological abuse. Part of the task would be that of calling in real teachers to imagine and then do real work in modeling optimal and replicable public education for the 21st century. Imagine too, a society in which lifelong learning is taken for granted even in the White House.
Imagine becoming the orchestrator of the many voices in health care as it enters a new phase. The expansion of healthcare professionals is reducing the power of physicians; the increasing knowledge base of the patient is increasing the power of the consumer; the democratic demand for an expansion of basic healthcare to all citizens will decrease the power of for profit medicine.
Imagine politics becoming more democratic with greater civic involvement as well as electronic participation. This, along with the gradual increase of elected women and minorities is going to cause real movement and citizen involvement. For too many, the Macarena became the metaphor for political life--most of the movement takes place while your feet stay in the same spot.
Perhaps we can explore ways to help them discover as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it that "...the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: to reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it--but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor."
We find ourselves at the end of one era, and not yet at the beginning of a new one. We are caught in a parenthesis between the reluctance to leave what was, and the terror before what is yet to be. Some of us have subsided into lives of serial monotony, while others risk all for sensation at any cost. And still a vision beckons. We are the citizens of closing times, and this makes us pioneers of opening time, bridge builders and architects, the ones who will make it happen. In this, our vision and guidance is essential for these are the times, and we are the people.
About the Author
Jean Houston is co-director of the Foundation for Mind Research and an eminent scholar, philosopher, and teacher. She has written numerous books drawing on thirty-five years of research on human development and exploring ways of developing extraordinary capacities in people and organizations throughout the world.
© July 1999
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