We offer these metaphors as snippets from the conversation about social imagination. It’s a big conversation with room for many voices, including yours, and maybe you will have metaphors of your own to add to the pot.
There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth
Lots of its processes happen right under our feet in the mundane and everyday, they happen in the mess and the dark. As we decompose mindsets which no longer help us on the inside, things can change on the outside and new life can be supported. The organisms of the microbiome which make up much of the soil are talking to each other in languages we don’t consciously understand, so too with the imaginal
A kaleidoscope offers many angles to see a situation and its possibilities. Looking at the moving picture, we also see that all of the different angles are related and connected. As you turn the kaleidoscope a new image and pattern emerges. Social imagination requires a plurality of perspectives and movement between them for colourful new patterns of possibility to be seen. For too long, the imaginings in power that shaped our society have marginalised many of those viewpoints and their vital interconnections.
When we open the door to imagination we don’t quite know what we are letting in. Looking for the new inevitably means leaving something of the old behind – loss is part of the deal. Rituals which mark our journey of change help us to hold the chaos of entering the unknown and step with courage over the threshold, witnessed and supported by others.
If everything around seems dark, look again, you may be the light
A child on seeing the angel asks Michelangelo – ‘how did you know he was inside there?’ He replies, ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ Social imagination is seeing the potential beyond what is hidden by the dominant assumptions about what is and what is possible. The ‘social’ part is learning to see the angel collectively as well as individually
The questing beast is a mythical creature which is never viewed in its entirety; a hoof, a mane, a tail, a glimpse. But once the hunter stumbles across it they are bound by the deepest desire to continue the hunt, which never ends in capture, but many adventures and revelations on the way. The way of social imagination is like this, not a single destination but a longing after connection to something with a wholeness.
It is good to have an end to journey toward;
but it is the journey that matters, in the end
It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end
Ursula K. Le Guin
We work with situations that hold deep complexity, just as a forest does. Life can flow through them but it might have to change form to be renewed. In a forest there are always parts that are emerging (new life) and parts which are decomposing (death of the old) parts that are incubating (seeds and eggs) and parts that are reproducing (fruits and fledglings). Tuning into which parts of the situation are ready to move into a different form or function in service of life flowing is one of the skills of social imagination.
Since before the invention of reading and writing, the beings we now call humans created a hearth, a fire of some sort, to be safe and to be together. This is where we do the activities through which we celebrate our humanity; we move & dance, we sing, we make music, we tell stories, we eat and drink each other’s food. Social imagination needs a warm, playful and equal space in which we can join in dancing, singing and telling the story we are living and want to live into
The octopus is a remarkable being. Rather than a centralised nervous system such as vertebrates have, two-thirds of an octopus’s neurons are spread throughout its body, distributed between its arms. And now scientists have determined that those neurons can make decisions without input from the central ‘brain’. It is a collaborative, cooperative, but distributed mind. When we imagine together we know things we cannot know separately. The more we learn to imagine together, the larger our imaginations become
Seeking right relationship with others through social imagination requires inner strength, vulnerability and a willingness to go into the deep places we fear. It is our willingness to do the inner work of relating to ourselves which enables us to draw up freshwater to be shared.