Living life well requires using your imagination. This is sad because so many people suffer from a poverty of imagination. It is deeply sad that fear has such a profound impact on imagination.
Often I ask people who their heroes or heroines are and they look at me blankly. I believe people you admire can offer guideposts for your imagination.
I’ve always loved Eleanor Roosevelt, arguably our finest first lady, because she was not loved by Franklin (or his mother), was plain looking, and yet she still found the courage to thrive. To this day, I use my imagination to borrow her courage to make my life work.
The Submission by Amy Waldman is all about how we use our imagination, mostly under the guidance of fear. The author used her imagination to create an anonymous contest for the 9/11 memorial.
The jury reaches a conclusion and chooses a winner, then discovers the creator has the first name of Mohammed. What’s interesting is how much time it takes for one particular juror’s imagination to find the dark path of what terrible meanings may lie underneath the design because of his Muslim background.
Truth is always complicated. Fearful imagination does not demand the time that complicatedness requires. Fearful imagination is very black or white, 1 or 10, with no shades of gray or elements of 4,5, or 6.
Psychotherapy is about a search for truth, which is why I identify with cops and not lawyers. It’s also about complicatedness, which is not the purpose of the police. Couples survive when they can learn to use their imaginations to not be either/or in their feelings but learn to sit two difficult truths next to each other instead.
I wonder if a decline in marriage is in part about not taking the time to learn how to live with the complicatedness of differences. It is an intense amount of work to create enough imagination to respect two points of view. As a culture, we love the convenience of one winning and the other losing. The hard work of compromise is missing, which is why the Republican Senator from Maine, Olympia Snowe resigned rather than continue to struggle in Congress.
When people walk in my office for the first time, it is an act of courage. In turn, I use my imagination to work towards the good that lies within. It is so easy to betray ourselves with exaggerated guilt or any of the seven deadly sins. We have to learn to live with our humanity and all the ways we are wrong or mistaken.
It’s my imagination that loves to read other people’s stories, that does not tire of hearing stories in my office all day long, that keeps me loving to learn, that gives me new ideas to make my ordinary life richer and keeps my interest in art afloat.
I’m glad I grew up when watching television was limited. Our play time wasn’t so orchestrated and we ran in the woods with the other kids in the neighborhood and just made stuff up. It was glorious in its own way to explore a long abandoned house and scare ourselves half to death, which had the end result of feeling brave.
Fear limits the imagination so often for so many. I knew a woman who had bruises on her legs from her eight-year-old’s unwillingness to leave her mother’s side. She had such anxiety that she couldn’t even imagine that excitement is the other side of fear.
We need to learn to imagine excitement more than the fear, which arrives all so easily for us and the characters in The Submission.