The Power of Imagination

Nell Edgington

We are now halfway through 2020. What an exhausting, overwhelming, anxiety-producing, crazy ride it has been. The question before us now is how will we choose to experience the second half. Because my guess is that it will be equally, if not more, unpredictable. We can choose to be tossed around by it, or we can instead choose to find the possibility in the unknown.

Because as Ralph Waldo Emerson said “When it’s dark enough you can see the stars.” What I have found to be true in this year of so many unknowns is that when we have no idea what will come next, something powerful emerges. And that is our imagination. I was reminded by a colleague recently how incredibly powerful our imagination is. We can create whole worlds with it.

Indeed, isn’t that how any significant social change has ever come to be? From women’s suffrage, to the civil rights movement, to the legalization of gay marriage, to the gains the current Black Lives Matter movement has already brought, and on and on. Any social change has been preceded by someone, somewhere (often many someones) imagining what a better future could be.

As Opal Tometi, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, said recently, we are now beginning to imagine how the future could be different:

I…believe that what we are witnessing now is the opening up of imaginations, where people are beginning to think more expansively about what the solutions could be.”

And as Martin Luther King Jr. said, imagining something better than where we currently are gives us the faith, the energy, the drive to bring what we imagine to fruition:

This is the faith that I go back to the mount with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the genuine discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, pray together; to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom forever, knowing that we will be free one day. “

This ability to imagine a better future is also what propelled America’s founding fathers, whom my family celebrated this past weekend by watching the musical Hamilton. In Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda brilliantly imagined the merger of two narratives: revolutionary Americans fighting for freedom from British rule, and people of color today fighting for freedom from white supremacy. Miranda’s imagining was particularly thought-provoking to watch in this moment when Black Lives Matter protesters around the country are similarly fighting for freedom from fear and violence.

So I wonder if the second half of 2020 will have us move beyond the swirl of doubt and confusion, to the power of imagining what we want the future to be. Because we can, you know. We can imagine, and from that imagining, bring forth a whole new way forward — for our own individual lives, for the lives of those we work as social change leaders to improve, for our country, for our planet. The true power to create change, any changemaker knows, is to first imagine the change you want to see.

What if we approach the second half of this incredibly tumultuous year not from a place of doubt, fear and anxiety, but instead from a place of inspiration, imagination, power. A place of envisioning the future world we want to see, the future world we will then work to create.

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  • Nell Edgington