By: Victoria G. Smith
Election fever is upon us again—a perfect time to reflect upon the power of imagination to change lives. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We starve for solutions to our problems from a poverty of imagination. I believe this applies not only to our personal lives, but to our politics, as well. So, how do we apply the power of imagination to all spheres of life?
Let’s begin with Fellini. Federico Fellini was an Italian filmmaker and screenwriter famous for the acclaimed films, “La Dolce Vita”, “La Strada”, “8 1/2”, and more. He said, “I see no line between the imaginary and the real.” For me, this means there is no difference between what we imagine and what we experience as real—implying that in order to experience a great reality, we must develop a great imagination. This has proven true in my life. I realize that in many ways, I’ve imagined my life into being. When I did not like the way my life was going, I simply dreamed a different dream, visualized a different vision for my life. In other words, I reimagined my life in the general way I wanted it to change, and voila—that’s when the transformation, or what Fellini calls magic, began. My use of the word “general” here is intentional. Contrary to what most material wealth gurus preach, those of us who choose the intuitive path to life say that we should not be too specific in imagining how to achieve our dreams in order to leave room for the Universe to work out the myriad details that even we can’t imagine in our utterly connected world, which would consequently produce the conditions necessary for our dreams to come true. And then we have to be willing and able to put in the good work required to fulfill those dreams, work that is specified by the manifest conditions provided by the Universe—or what we sometimes call luck or good fortune. Dreaming is a practical thing indeed, for dreams provide us both with a general manual on how to achieve our goals and a signal to the Universe to send the luck necessary to help us realize them. We need to trust that having sent our intentions out to the Universe (or what others call praying), the force of life itself will respond accordingly. It may not be exactly what we’d hoped or imagined would happen, but if we examine the results closely, we might realize that the benefits are exactly what we’ve asked for. This is what true faith means to me, and this is how I live an intuitive, imaginative life.
Without a vision of anything different, nothing is invented, nor lives improved. That’s why it’s so crucial to expose children born into poverty and other dire circumstances to a vision of a better way of life in order to help them develop an imagination capable of dreaming their way into better lives. As a young child, I was blessed with angels who did this for me—my own mother who taught me I could be equal to the task required by any opportunity if I put my heart and mind to it, and her sister, a spinster aunt who introduced me to the limitless world of books. And when I’d reached adolescence, competing in various art and skills contests and traveling as both a concomitant activity of and prize in winning such competitions opened my eyes to the beauty of the material world outside my imagination, suggesting to me even then the symbiotic relationship between the material and immaterial worlds, of they being mirror reflections of each other, and thus, of the possibility of dreaming my way into manifesting a better personal life.
On the societal level, however, it’s not enough for us to personally dream our way into better lives—we have to dream both for ourselves and the society we live in, that is, to extend our dreams to our communities, to something larger than us—specifically, as regards how we might change and improve our society so that the latter could provide us with the necessary structural support to live better personal lives. This is essentially the premise of the social contract theory dreamt by political philosophers Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. According to Hobbes, man in the state of nature was always in a state of war, where it was every man for himself, taking what he wanted when he wanted, which overall made human life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. It was only when men agreed to subject themselves under the rule of a sovereign who would instill order and protect them from attacks within and outside the group that life became manageable, and thus made society possible. Locke and Rousseau believed that man in the state of nature had inherent reasoning powers that allowed him to recognize the benefits of coming together with his fellow men for mutual protection and surrendering their individual right of action to a sovereign or government that thereby empowered the latter to establish a system of law and order that enforced rules of morality and conduct for the protection of life, liberty, and property. Notice that under the social contract theory, the sovereign or government’s rule is essentially a rule by consent of the ruled. Thus, if the sovereign or government fails in its duty to protect its people’s rights and freedoms, then the ruler forfeits its right to rule. The stability of a sovereign’s reign or a government’s rule is directly related to the degree of stability for social life and commerce that the ruler is able to maintain for its people. A failed state hence is a state that has fallen apart because of its ruler’s failure to secure its people’s rights and freedoms, the lack of which is what sows seeds of rebellion and revolution.
The underlying premise of the social contract theory is reason—that humans are basically reasonable beings who choose peace over chaos, liberty over tyranny, life over death. But what if this all-important assumption—that human beings are reasonable—is incorrect or no longer applies? What happens then to the very foundations of government? If both ruler and ruled could no longer be relied upon to make reasonable decisions, what happens to the society in which they live? These are the questions we must ask ourselves as we deliberate how we move forward in this environment where ignorance, fear, and hatred have muddled reason, and the only reason that seems to prevail is frighteningly akin to survival of the fittest—which was the natural state of man that made civilization impossible until the formation of some form of government.
I believe, however, that human beings remain reasonable. Where they seem to act in unreasonable ways, it’s possible we failed to grasp the inherent reasons for their actions, rather than they acting without reason. Ground down to its essence, we might recognize that the basis of their seemingly unreasonable acts is sincere, albeit ill-conceived self-defense. In a fast-changing world that spins even faster through ever increasing levels of global integration, people feel threatened and afraid. Traditional ways of life have disappeared and what else remain are fast disappearing. To many cultural groups and tribes, their way of life is life itself. Taking that away from them amounts to sentencing them to death, from their perspective. Global changes in climate and commerce (inclusive of technology) are challenges shared by everyone on this planet, altering the world as we know it. The extreme polarization and conflict we are witnessing in our current politics and culture are reactions to this worldwide cataclysm. In this scenario, everyone is a victim and an aggressor at the same time. Simply doing nothing at such a time is an act of aggression itself. Those of us who are moved to act, act in opposing ways, all the while believing we are doing what is necessary to protect our life, liberty, and property. What do we do, so we don’t just end up killing each other and returning to Hobbes’ state of nature?
Let us begin with empathy— yes, even for those whom we perceive to be our enemies. There was something in a book I’ve read or film I’ve watched recently, I’m not sure which, but I was struck by these lines, which I paraphrase: “It is easier for us to hate than to allow ourselves to feel guilt for the suffering of another human being. If we hate another, then we escape the suffering we’d feel in seeing that the other is also suffering. And so we resort to hate.” How true this is. I see it all around us—how we deal with difficult family members, people of a different race or culture, people of a different ideology or religion, immigrants and refugees, etc.. The list goes on and on. Is it possible we are destroying ourselves also by sloth? To feel for another requires work, for then we are moved to act. And when we’re not sure what to do, we freeze, and then justify our acts of omission by simplifying the situation into one where we see the victim as deserving of what’s happening to him or her anyway.
I, like the rest of humankind, do not know the sure solutions to our biggest problems, but I know this—like many of us have already been suggesting for sometime now: We need to listen to each other. The problem, however, is we no longer seem to know how. On this, Fellini said, “If there were a little more silence, if we all kept quiet… maybe we could understand something.” We need to re-learn the art of true conversation—where we’re not talking over each other and only making a fine noise. Just look at all the talking heads in our televisions sets and other devices, let alone the current President of the United States—these are our pathetic models for how we speak to each other today. How powerful are our celebrities in modeling how we should behave— and how destructive. Trump and an increasing number of other populist world leaders have reduced our national politics into reality TV shows and our international relations into shallow and fickle transactional alliances. The way the news gets our attention—in two-second spans, has become the way we also pay attention to everything else. We expect to be entertained rather than be enlightened. And most films are no better in teaching us how to face conflict. Among couples and families, we mostly see the fight and flight tactic in dealing with disagreements, and in larger groups, the “just shoot ‘em” of the Wild, Wild West genre. We need to learn how to fight with honor, that is, while keeping our humanity intact.
So here’s what I propose: a TV reality game show. Yes—you read right. Don’t laugh. It actually makes sense if you’ll only listen. Sometimes, we treat addiction by transitioning the addict away from the drug to which he’s addicted through an intermediate drug. In like manner, in order to wean ourselves away from our two-second attention spans and our addiction to fight or flight behavioral patterns, we use the setting of a TV reality game show that would demonstrate how people from opposing points of view could fully yet respectfully argue their respective sides without leaving, shouting, hitting, condescending upon or talking over each other. This process could run for days—just like a marathon dance competition. The first side that quits or resorts to any of the forbidden behaviors loses, and the winning side gets a prize so big, it’s worth the behavioral change. The point of the exercise is not so much proving who has the better argument (although certainly, points should be given for factual and logical reasoning)— the main point is learning how to change our behavior in a conflict situation to enable us to have a true and sincere conversation with the opposing party, thereby allowing us to both hear and learn from each other. Imagine that. And then imagine replicating such mode of discourse and learning in our local, regional, national and international politics, and that the prize is none other than world peace and justice; prosperity and equality of rights among people of different races, religions, gender identities, and sexual preferences; and the rehabilitation of the planet into a healthy environment for our children, our children’s children, and millennia of generations of human beings and other earthly species.
Imagine all that. Then act. And then watch the magic happen.
(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2019 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith. com. “Like” her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. “Follow” her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)