Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Imagination Takes Courage

I recently witnessed one of the most inspiring speeches I've ever heard. I consider the speaker a true visionary, a prophet, one who when he opens his mouth to speak, there is no doubt in the audience's mind that he needs to be heard.

The central theme I took away was how we have lost our imagination as a culture. We have become so entrenched in this either/or mentality that we have forgotten we were created to think of other possibilities. Capitalism or socialism. Democracy or dictatorship. Black or white. Heaven or hell. Pro-life or pro-choice. Liberal or conservative. For profit or not-for-profit. Rich or poor. Violence or pacifism.

What if these are all false choices? What if we have been conditioned to feel fear when we try to think outside the systems we see all around us? And why shouldn't we feel fear? When we look back through history, the people who have truly envisioned and fought for an alternative way of thinking have all been ridiculed or killed (think Jesus, Gandhi, William Wilberforce, Nelson Mandela, Dr. King, just to name a few). 

Speaking of economics, author Raj Patel, in his book 0: The Value of Nothing, applies this concept to our love affair with capitalism: "What needs to be plucked out of markets is the perpetual and overriding hunger for expansion and profit... what needs to be plucked out of us is the belief that markets are the only way to value our world." He is daring to say that instead of this false choice between capitalism and socialism, profit or no profit, there is actually another way, if we only have the courage to put aside our fear, and use our imaginations. 

Countless pockets of this courage can be seen all over the world, many of which Patel writes about along with author Paul Hawken in Blessed Unrest. It is so vital that we understand things can in fact be different. And not just different within our current system, but different altogether. The speaker I heard spoke about how artists are so vital because they envision how things should be, not how they are now. 

It is time for 'the mainstream' to start painting. To start re-imagining the Earth and our society the way it could be, not the way it is. To start connecting the pockets that are already here. 

Patel, in speaking about one of these pockets in Brazil, where people have taken democracy to a whole new level economically and are seeing amazing results, says it is amazing "...what happens when people stop being consumers in the market and become the authors of their lives, political subjects who both preside over resources and develop democratic ways of sharing them... In order to reclaim politics, we too will need more imagination, creativity and courage. We will need to remember that democracy's triumphs  come not from the ballot box but from the circumstances that make democracy possible; equality, accountability, and the possibility of politics." (emphasis mine)

The speaker I mentioned is Michael Hidalgo, whose blog, A View From A Point, is linked here, and whose teachings can be found here.