Is it getting more difficult for you to watch the news? It is for me.
My problem is not that bad things happen in the world. Earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, and collapsing economic systems are really old news. The record of history shows that such events have happened constantly somewhere in the world for millenia. My problem with the news today is the difficulty in finding any compelling or fundamentally hopeful vision through all the dust and smoke kicked up by present events. Yes, we hear about outpourings of generosity in response to disasters, and we hear about the resilience of the human spirit, but those expressions seem to deal with a relatively superficial morality. To my mind, such rhetorical flourishes don’t rise to the stature of truly hopeful vision.

I find myself feeling scared and then angry at the state of the world – not at the natural disasters; those will happen; but at the general lack of profound reflection about the quality of community we might be capable of creating for ourselves – the kind of community that can maintain resilience in the face of crisis. In my anger, it’s tempting to point fingers in an attempt to identify who is to blame for this mess. It is no real surprise that blaming never really works, though according to Family Systems Theory the tendency to cast anxious blame in the face of crisis is normal enough. I find myself wondering if the time has come for me to throw up my hands in despair? Shall I toss a lifetime of optimism into the dustbin where it can hobnob with the rest of life’s disasters? Certainly, that is one option. But before doing it, perhaps I should explore exactly what I would be throwing away with my optimism.

If I choose to remain optimistic, it is necessary to determine the direction of my optimism. I have to figure out what vision operates as the foundation for my hope. I am reminded of all the high school valedictory speeches over the years that have exhorted fresh-faced graduates to create “a better world in which to live.” (The grammar of that phrase has never sounded quite right.) Still, that concept intrigues me: A better world! A better world? Better, how?

What is the direction of “better?” And is it possible to couch such a direction in profoundly hopeful vision rather than stale political rhetoric?

Humanity has always created (or discovered) visions that have been adopted by diverse cultures, often articulated and promulgated by charismatic figures. Too often, the power of the leader overwhelms the vision itself, and if it is being promoted on behalf of those in power, the vision can obscure, if not obfuscate, the often greedy self interest of the promoters.

Given these questions, I find myself wondering what validates any particular vision. Are some visions, then, better than others, or do the visions that find practical success merely reap the benefit of more effective promotion? Perhaps in this postmodern world where everything is subject to deconstruction, the variety of visions can all find themselves in the proverbial column with the heading: “There’s no accounting for taste.” Can all of our visions be reduced to the most potent combination of cleverness, intimidation, and wishful thinking (sometimes referred to as “false hope”)? Or can we evaluate our visions with more depth and creativity than that. The rest of this essay looks at some potential evaluative measures for our visions.
Here are three:

  • Does a vision deal with real people who face real life issues? Many of the visions that have emerged and held sway over the millenia have done so in conjunction with religion: “The Peaceable Kingdom,” and “The Promised Land” from Judaism; “The Kingdom (or Realm) of God” from Christianity; and “Nirvana” from Buddhism to name a few. Many visions are essentially worldly, some are otherworldly, and some don’t have a “world” view at all. How does “worldliness” affect the usefulness of our visions?
  • How does the relationship of the individual to the collective affect the usefulness of the vision? Visions vary enormously in how they deal with the individual in relationship to the collective. At one extreme is the importance of the survival of the individual or immediate family at all costs. At the other end of the spectrum is the value of individual sacrifice on behalf of the greater (collective) good. Some visions connect the extremes by positing the notion that healthy individuals make healthy communities and healthy communities foster the growth and development of healthy individuals.
  • How important is it for a vision to be “forward-looking?” Some visions look at potential well-being in the short term only, while others promote a deep concern for the future, “even to the seventh generation.”

Putting it all together, what vision(s) inform(s) your life and your economic, relational, and political stances? And if you find hope in your vision, what does it look like when you evaluate it by the above three criteria?

I would be interested in your answers to these questions, and I assume that others who read this blog would be interested as well.

I hope you will let us know what you think.

Wayne Gustafson
“The Promised Land is within and among us.”
Community of Promise

 

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