Culture and Tradition: Imagination

As great scientists have said and as all children know, it is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception, and compassion, and hope.

Ursula K. LeGuin

I overheard a parent talking about her son.  She was very frustrated.  He had not passed a course he needed for graduation, and now the plans she expected him to enter into were going to change until he could re-take the course and graduate.  He might even lose the opportunity of a life time, as she described it because of this disappointing disaster.  “This is not at all how it was supposed to turn out.  I never imagined that he would do this to us.”

Within our families and other family-like groupings (think of those places that you think are “like a family”) what we can imagine is one of those often silent and powerful shaping forces of culture.  We imagine things for ourselves.  We imagine things for each other.  We imagine things for “us” as a group.  Often, we imagine something for another within the group.  This is often true of elders toward their juniors in a family or family-like group.

What we imagine for others within our family can have the power to set them free.  What if we imagine for the others within our “family” that they are unique souls? What if we imagine for them that they are free to search out what is meaningful for them in life? What if we imagine for them a dignity, a worth that “comes with the package” and has no expiration date?  What if our imagination allows that the other persons in our “family” are a mystery unfolding and that we imagine for our own selves that we will often be surprised?  What if we imagine for the others in our “family” that they are gifts and so we daily offer gratitude for them?

Of course, our imaginations have the power to lock our family members into a set of expectations that may cripple them for the rest of their lives.  We imagine them and their actions to support who we are, to make us happy, to fulfill our own unmet longings and goals. We imagine them as little extensions of ourselves.  We imagine that they will do, think, speak and act as we expect.  We imagine them as not real human beings.

Imagination is powerful.  It communicates.  It shapes us, and it shapes those we either contain with it, or empower with it.  In our free and responsible search for truth and meaning, the power of our imaginations can guide us.

Bob Patrick

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