Originally published in Huffington Post Impact November 24, 2015. Read it here.
If our civilization was to disappear tomorrow, would you be able to say what the future world had lost? When you work to create a sustainable future, are you certain that your approaches serve life and people?
We are in the midst of a mental crisis preventing us from creating the sustainable cultures we pursue, and time and time again we see politicians and companies fail because most people do not have the capacities to imagine, nor create another reality.
“The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is time to prove him wrong and for that humanity needs to grow in new ways.
As fertilizer for our new growth we should use imagination and compassion; only when we are brave enough to pursue what seems unattainable is it possible to achieve what is beyond reality. Imagination enables us to move far beyond what we know. Compassion opens our hearts and serves as our navigator.
As of now, we are repairing the culture that brought us climate change. We create new and greener alternatives to coal and oil, but do not touch upon the question, for what do we need all the energy; we see the sharing economy grow but are not designing educational systems that support this way of thinking. We need to embrace the loss of who we are and celebrate what we can become. Something has to die for other things to live.
However, losing what we are can be the scariest thing imaginable. What we need is to change the DNA of our lifestyles — this calls for everyday practice as much as for imagination. If sustainability feels like a distant political dream, it’s probably because it’s not at the core of every move you make. And understanding the habits that will make us change is as hard as changing the habits that are killing us.
When the cultural crisis shows
Our mental crisis becomes visual to us when we try to realize our imaginations and visions for the future.
When in a crisis our imagination often mirrors what we try to overcome risking the ability to dream up a new and better reality. That way we are stuck in the glue we are struggling to escape, because we tend to give fear our full attention.
Then, in the midst of the emergency, when we feel the most unable to handle the waves that hit us, we seek support in the purity of intuition and the power of imagination for a moment.
At this moment, we need to be careful that we do not end up ruining the possibility of a sustainable future because we find assurance in the stabilized communities in which we confirm each other’s fears and ideas leading to solutions much more conservative than we first wanted them to be.
Unfortunately, people too often crawl into their cocoons when the time comes to create a new public order, a new culture, and new economies. This fear makes the gap between imagination and reality widen until we feel that what we imagined is an impossible dream. We end up distrusting our ability to prototype our imagined solutions until we are so paralyzed by a feeling of inability that hopelessness is the only thing left.
Our best chance
Our best chance is that the world is not falling apart – most of the planet’s life is still there, and humanity can avoid collapse if enough people manage to imagine ways out of our cultural crisis.
Let us start by creating new pathways to follow: fields in which we can grow with, for, and as life, instead of trying to harness Nature’s resources and people’s goodwill. Pathways that teach us to think again.
To make imagination efficient, we have to move it out of its Utopian cradle. Utopias are totalitarian; they do not make room for diversity or other people’s visions.
How to become better at imagining and start prototyping a new reality:
- Ask yourself: for whom are you designing solutions? If you design them for sustainable people, it will be hard to use them in any other way.
- Listen to and observe life. The places you are, the things and life around you will offer you the answers. Compassion and biomimicry were invented this way.
- Share what you hear and see. Test your imaginations against and with the people they concern and you avoid getting stuck in your ideas.
- Prototype your imaginations, where you try to carry out your ideas or part of them, in practice. Take the most radical and seemingly impossible ideas first – they are the ones most likely to contain great solutions. Remember, Elon Musk is prototyping a vacuum-travel tube!
- Literally, create microcosms or biomes, where diversity can flourish: gardens, classrooms, homes, offices, and so forth. You want your microcosms to lead to extraordinary sense experiences and great wonders. Welcome and support what is different.
- Trust the capacity of all living organisms to contribute. This will challenge your ability to imagine the world less homogenous, more biodiverse, and hence, more innovative.
- Do not mistake complacency and socializing for innovation. When we carry out what seems as experiments, we push ourselves and often create strong bonds and experiences. The friendships that follow from this are a root of more active imagination, but not innovations in themselves.
- Laugh. Play. Have fun. Grow. Flourish. Love. Follow the paths that feel more joyful. That is how life feels.
The future of our societies depends on how well people, companies, governments, and civil societies can break the mental crisis, capture imagination and create a culture that serves life and people.
If we cannot get our dreams out of the bubble Paris and COP21 will not matter.
Follow Kajsa (@kajsapaludan) and Oleg (@aktionsfilosofi) on Twitter.