“In my dream,” the angel shrugged and said, “if we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination.” And then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand. ––Story People
I have a small square card placed on my desk. On it are these words, written in frank, block letters “Opt out of consensus reality”. This simple instruction has become my north star, a compass setting inside the maelstrom of narratives that exist in our collective mind. These stories can feel deeply personal, such as “I’m not enough”, “I’ll go broke”, or “I should have done that differently”. Or civilizational, such as “homework makes better students”, “drink more water”, “we need a growth economy” or “humanity is bad”.
Guess what? All these narratives, all these stories, ideas and beliefs that are floating out there, embedded in the daily news, agreed upon around the family table––are merely thoughts. That’s it. That’s the sum total of their substance. They are not tangible; they have no shape or form. They appear in our collective consciousness completely randomly. They are not based on fact, research or evidence.
They do not exist because they are true; they exist because they are believed. But here’s the weird-science rub––believing them can make it so. It’s long been established that thought, fueled by belief, is the creator of reality. But don’t take my word for it; just look inside your own experience. Every invention started with a thought. Every initiative began with an idea. Our imagination seeds everything that appears in our human world––from the invention of the wheel, to a family, to a government.
Author, astrologer and musician, Rob Brezsny writes, “whether our imagination is in service to our noble desires or in the thrall of compulsive fears and inappropriate yearnings, there is one constant: the prophecies of our imagination tend to be accurate. Many of our visions of the future do come to pass. The situations we expect to occur and the experiences we rehearse and dwell on are all-too-often reflected back to us as events that confirm our expectations.”
As discussions heat up around the coming US Presidential election, and the news cycle becomes increasingly urgent, vitriolic and, well––insane, we might want to pause a moment and consider who we want to be in these unsettled times, and what narratives we want to reinforce. While we might be tempted to contribute our voices and ideas towards what we don’t want, we’d be well advised to set our sights towards what we do want. This one simple, subtle stand could well make the difference between a dark world and a light one.
Brezsny continues, “Here’s the logical conclusion: It’s downright stupid and self-destructive to keep infecting our imaginations with pictures of loss and failure, doom and gloom, fear and loathing. The far more sensible approach is to expect blessings.”
So often, social change, organizational change and personal change is framed inside the negative narrative that are forged by words like: should, shouldn’t, must, isn’t, don’t, wrong, bad. There’s nothing inherently wrong or immoral with focusing on the negative, it’s just that it doesn’t work. Or worse, it creates that negative. Due to our brain’s negativity bias––that neurochemical dynamic that assisted us to evolve by recognizing a tiger in the forest––it’s easier for a mind to react negatively to a stimulus, than to effort its wise pre-frontals and imagine a world it loves.
So when you are tempted to raise your fist in rage over the latest political stupidity, and share the latest bad news on Facebook, know that you are simply in the throes of a primitive evolutionary response. “The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates: considering happiness as something rather stupid,” wrote Ursula K. Le Guin. “Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artists; a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”
Let’s admit the banality of evil, and instead pause, and use that hair-trigger to ignite your best imagination. For the coming twelve months, I’m issuing us all a challenge: from this day forward, endeavor to hashtag, share, write about, speak about, and think about what you do want, and what you do love. It’s a deeply intelligent response to unintelligent times. Albert Einstein once said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Imagination is the key to social change.
In preparation for the coming storm of negativity, pumped into our bloodstreams 24-7 by hysterical news outlets, EQUUS has decided to make a stand on its own social media. We wish to contribute positively to the world’s collective imagination. We will only share good, helpful, optimistic news. We will only write about, and share, what we love, and what we want for us, for you, and for the world. Together, we will inspire change, not conspire against that which we want to change. With this commitment, we are joining the #goodnews effort around the world––we invite you to do the same, using that hashtag too.
There are many examples of positive change agents who are forging real change through love, optimism, and possibility––Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Julia Butterfly Hill, and Rebecca Solnit, to name but a few. “An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time,” writes Zinn. “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.”
Another positive change agent is our client Luke Lowenfield a prominent businessman from El Paso, Texas. In the wake of the Walmart shooting on August 3rd, Luke decided to take a profoundly positive stand for his community and launched the El Paso Abrazo (“Hug” in Spanish) campaign. In his message to the people of El Paso, he parted from party politics and aimed straight for the heart of his community. “El Paso consistently ranks as one of the safest cities in America,” Luke told me. “So when someone drove ten hours to kill people here, the community was completely shocked and devastated. We were attacked, and we were suffering; there were so many emotions we experienced in the wake of this tragedy, and we all needed a hug. We needed to come together, to hold each other, to feel the comfort of an embrace and deep gratitude for the lives of the people around us.” He continued, “A friend and writer Phil Gabbardcame up with the campaign. He saw that hugging was a very natural thing for El Pasoans—with our strong Hispanic culture, we’re very open with our abrazos and besos. Pretty much anywhere you go, a hug, and maybe a kiss or two on the cheeks, is part of the normal greeting. And, Phil wanted to ground us in that truth, to encourage our city to keep loving one another and moving toward each other. The terrorist brought fear, insecurity, and anxiety into El Paso, and that’s not the spirit of our peaceful border town. Our hope was to remind people of what’s most natural for us, and to invite people to stay close (physically and emotionally) as we move forward.”
“Thoughts and prayers don’t immediately provide the grounds for healing and togetherness. Luke’s message of hugs, did,” wrote Phil in an email to me, emphasizing that Luke’s account was much too humble. “We posted his video, and it soared because he delivered the emotional, mindful words needed at the right place and time. His words spoke to the heart of all people who know El Paso.” This story makes me wonder how the world might be different today if Luke and Phil were in charge of the response to 9-11. They model an everyday, regular-person example of how positive energy can be mightily wielded in the face of horror.
What can you do, each day, in response to an insult, a betrayal, a disappointment, someone cutting you off in traffic, the next shocking news feed? We are best supported by arming ourselves in advance with our positive, creative imagination. Take a moment, each day, and imagine the life you want, the community you want and the world you want. Then make it so.