By Erinn Carter
How to imagine a better world in the midst of uncertainty and suffering.
Global Pandemic, wildfires, the rise of fascism…Did I miss anything?
For many of us, these past couple years have been a reckoning. We’ve learned that so much of what surrounds us must be re-examined and reconstructed. Many of the current structures and old ideas in place need to be voted out into a pit of lava, like in a game of Among Us.
In all this uncertainty, I found there is one thing that seems harder to do than paying bills or becoming your child’s second-grade teacher— imagining a future that is better than the one we’re currently experiencing.
In the past we’ve focused on what we needed to dismantle. From the prison system to policing to racism and patriarchy, we’ve spent our time working hard to identify the microstructures and the macro ideas that keep fueling these inequalities.
But in order to create this new world, we can’t just focus on what needs to be dismantled. We’ve got to find the time to imagine what we’ll build in its place.
I am a part of Frailty Myths, a nonprofit organization that empowers women, trans, and gender non-conforming folks to smash the myth of frailty and transform our communities through education and experiential learning. We teamed up with our friends at Greenpeace USA to create a new idea for the future and a new space where we can imagine this future.
We brought together more than 50 leaders, dreamers and believers, and, for one month, we spent our time thinking about what that future looks like and how we’re going to build it together.
Inspired by the work we did with Greenpeace USA we’ve come up with five tips on how we can all imagine the future together. So if you’re feeling like transforming the world, but you’re not quite sure where or how to start, check out these tips on how you can imagine and then create a future worth fighting for.
1. IMAGINE BIG. Anything is possible.
One of the greatest tricks that capitalism plays is convincing all of us that an old dog can’t learn new tricks. Not only is that not true for older dogs, but it certainly isn’t true about modern society. For many of my fellow Millennials (ugh), the stark truth is that this ethos that says change is impossible and naive has become ubiquitous in how my generation sees the world.
But change is all around us. And it happens quickly. We’ve lived through so many things that were considered “impossible” just a few years ago.
“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” —Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
Remind yourself to imagine big. Nothing is off-limits and nothing is unchangeable. The first rule of imagination is that anything is possible. We must give ourselves the space to dream without limitations and boundaries. People often say that change doesn’t happen overnight. But change can happen in a moment, over a year, or it can take a lifetime. Strive for change and transformation and don’t limit yourself to how long that transformation might take.
2. IMAGINE WITH OTHERS. Embrace the power of community.
There’s a great African proverb that’s used by everyone, from Instagram meme accounts to Al Gore, to the Wikipedia quote of the day:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go together.”
The principle behind this saying is clear. We are, by our very nature, communal creatures. As humans, most of our daily behavior is motivated by building connections. Whether through friendship, partnership, marriage, family or by building community, cities, and countries: Humanity is driven by relationships.
So it makes sense that not only are we driven to connect with each other, but historically we have also built incredible things when we’ve worked together.
If two minds are better than one, imagine what a bunch of minds can do! Imagine with your friends and community. Build spaces where you can learn about new ideas and new perspectives. Creating an “imagination” community is a powerful tool in building a brand new world.
3. IMAGINE WITH LOVE. Be tender with new ideas and spaces.
Imagining new ideas is just like learning how to dance. For some of us, imagining can feel awkward and a little off-beat. New ideas can be incomplete and fluid. Saying ideas out loud requires more than intelligence and a willingness to speak up: It requires a lot of bravery.
Imagining is a vulnerable act. Brené Brown, one of my favorite authors on the power of self-love and connection, describes just how powerful being vulnerable can feel:
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”
Build an imagination space where everyone has the space to be fearless. Inspire each other to be tender and loving with new ideas and new connections. If we imagine with love, we can build a community where people speak with the truth and courage to explore new possibilities.
4. IMAGINE A LOT. Practice Makes Perfect.
My grandma was from the South of the United States, so we grew up with platitudes and moral lessons to go with everything. When I was a young kid, she used to always tell me:
“You’ll get good at anything you practice at.”
Repeat an action over and over, and you’ll get better, whether that action is positive or negative. Practice being late all the time? Very quickly you’ll find yourself an expert on how to be late. Practice learning a new instrument? Get ready to impress your next-door neighbors with horrible renditions of “When the Saints Go Marching In” for the next six months. Create a space to practice where being perfect isn’t the goal.
It’s okay to sound horrible, it’s okay to miss a note and it’s okay if your theory for changing the world tomorrow isn’t perfect, either. And anything that we do over and over, whether it’s a good habit or a bad habit, will become just that: a habit.
Practice imagining. It comes in so many different ways: imagine a new world, draw a house you’ve always wanted to live in, write down what your perfect job would look like. We can imagine through song, through dance, through just saying words out loud. The goal isn’t to get it right the first time. Instead, build consistency and allow space for your mind to wonder.
5. IMAGINE WITH INTENT. The Future is up for Grabs.
It’s so scary to be the first one. Whether it’s the first to try something new, the first to say something isn’t quite right, or the first to go off into a different direction. In any case, it often feels like not only can we not make change, but that it’s foolish for us to even try.
And it’s true: Changing the world takes courage. But here’s the incredible thing about courage:
“Courage is contagious.”
There’s nothing scarier than raising your hand in a room full of people and saying “I don’t understand.” And almost always when someone does that the murmur of agreement flows across the room. Always remember: if you’re confused, someone else probably is too. More importantly, if you have the courage to say that you’re confused, you’ll notice that others will, too. Because courage is contagious.
The future isn’t set in stone. It isn’t decided. If you have the courage to speak out and to speak up, then use it! Remember that the words that you speak have power.
It’s hard to write about such optimism in the face of what feels like a daily onslaught of attacks against our humanity and right to exist. Some days, it’s hard to imagine that there is the possibility of a future that isn’t as dim as the reality we see in front of us every day.
And yet, even in these times, there are small bright spots. Small moments that make you laugh or bring you joy, even if for a second. And if that’s possible; if it’s possible to have moments of joy in what has felt like a season of sadness, then anything is possible.
The one thing that I know for sure is that our dream of creating a world different from the one we live in, where our humanity is a given and our future is unimaginable, is possible.
And it’s a future worth fighting for.
Erinn Carter is the co-founder and co-director of Frailty Myths, a different kind of DEI consultancy that uses hands-on skills and the power of practice to transform workplaces and communities in order to advance justice