Back in the mid-1990s, Scott Adams of Dilbert fame was bitterly funny. Then for some reason he became mostly just bitter. In 1997 he wrote a book called The Dilbert Future which made some tongue-in-cheek predictions, some of which were silly and some of which were wrong, but some were remarkably prescient:
Pretty perceptive guy. He concludes The Dilbert Future with a serious chapter on affirmations and the power of positive thinking. I’ve written once before on this subject. Adams believes that believing can actually alter reality, change the course of history. I’m not sure that I would go that far. I’ve also written about David Cooperrider’s practice of Appreciative Inquiry, the re-framing of negative ‘problems’ in terms of the realization of some positive goal through discovery, vision and design.
What got me thinking about this today was a scene between a father and son in a TV program called Everwood that my wife likes to watch. Some viewer has actually transcribed the entire script (it’s a rerun from last year), and though the transcript has disappeared from the website, an archive is still available on Google. So here’s the passage:
EPHRAM: I appreciate the crazy Dad cheering section. Itís just I get so stressed out sometimes, I forget why Iím even doing this. The truth is on my end, I donít know where I see myself in four years.
DR. BROWN: Well, then try it.
DR. BROWN: Close your eyes. Try to visualize it.
EPHRAM: (sarcastically) Yeah.
DR. BROWN: Whatís the matter, too cool to visualize with your father? Come on, picture it. Close your eyes.
[Ephram takes a deep breath and leans back in his desk chair and closes his eyes.]
DR. BROWN: You graduate. You move ahead. Youíre happy. What are you doing? Where are you?
EPHRAM: Iím playing in Juilliard.
DR. BROWN: Then thatís what weíll go for. Thatís where weíll get you.
It was actually a pretty moving scene for a silly teen soap opera. It was written by Michael Green, who also had a hand in writing the wonderful but short-lived series Cupid.
I think Adams and Cooperrider have it wrong in stressing affirmation and appreciation. The magic of this process is imagination. As I’ve said before, it is only imaginative poverty that prevents us from seeing what we need to do to make the world a better place. If we can imagine, we can’t not do anything — we have to act.
The same applies, I would argue, in making our own lives more complete, happier, more fulfilling and more meaningful. We need to be less analytical in deciding what our purpose is, and more imaginative. Close your eyes for a moment and think of yourself five years or ten years from now, under the best possible imaginable circumstances. You move ahead. You’re happy. What are you doing? Where are you?
When I do this, I suddenly start to see possibilities that I could never see from the vantage point of where I am now, what my current skills and passions are and how they dovetail with what the world needs today. Today, this ‘present’, is like a terrible anchor rooting me to continue doing tomorrow what I did yesterday. When I close my eyes and imagine myself in the future, I am freed from the constraints and shackles of today, freed from the sense of immediate responsibility for the deep and urgent needs of our society right now, freed from the limitations of what I think I can do and should do this moment, this hour, this day, this year.
What I imagine is myself in action — showing people, teaching people (outdoors, not in classrooms), coaching people in essential life skills that most of us today lack, so that they are self-sufficient and not dependent on employers and governments for their livelihood and welfare. I imagine that my novel about a future world living in balance with nature, built around intentional communities and natural enterprise, is not a novel at all, but a screenplay for a movie that has transformed the thinking and sparked the imagination and courage of millions about what could be, and which has become a catalyst for a movement that is taking flight, and now carries me along with it, as a simple advisor. I imagine that the framework for learning and discovery I have been developing in AHA! has turned out to be a new and astonishingly different way by which almost all people in this imagined future learn and make decisions — and that my contribution to it is unrecognizable but that does not matter, because in this imagined future learning takes place outside, through observation and practice, not inside through reading and abstract thought, and because in this imagined future decisions on what to do emerge from collective wisdom rather than being made ignorantly by those with the wealth and power to purchase the right to make those decisions for everyone else. I imagine that this learning and awareness have brought about the end of factory farming, military adventures, pollution, waste, and the political and economic oppression that preys on ignorance and fear. I imagine that the Internet has forced the news media to focus on what’s important and what’s actionable, and that people now go online or engage the media not for distraction or useless ‘news’ but to inform them with the capability to know what to do next, and how to do it. I imagine the great challenge for each person in this future is striking a balance between doing a million things generously and reciprocally for others, out there in the real world, versus learning how to increase one’s capabilities so that one can do even more. I imagine a world in which I am, and everyone else is, never passive, never merely consuming, never just putting in time, but instead always out there doing meaningful stuff, always moving, making the world a better place in remarkable and tangible ways, connected and networked with everyone else in common cause.
This imagining, unlike most ‘self-help’ methodologies, does not start from introspection, a mulling over of one’s purpose and meaning and value and capabilities, here and now, but starts instead with what’s outside, in the frame of the whole universe, in which one suddenly imagines oneself dropped, naive, ten years in the future, and landing doing what one imagines, without constraints, one should be doing, must be doing, then. Gary Paul Nabhan in Cultures of Habitat writes:
Walking along, my restlessness increased as I considered the premise put forth in the meeting room: that the shortest road to wisdom and peace with the world is the one that turns inward, away from direct sensory contact with other creatures. I will not assert that meditation, psychotherapy, and philosophical introspection are unproductive, but I simply can’t accept that inward is the only or best way for everyone to turn. The more disciplined practitioners of contemplative traditions can turn inward and still get beyond the self, but many others simply become swamped by self-indulgence. There are far too many people living in our society who forget daily that other creatures–five kingdoms’ worth of them–are cohabiting the planet with us.
Over half a century ago, Robinson Jeffers suggested that it may be just as valid to turn outward: “The whole human race spends too much emotion on itself. The happiest and freest man is the scientist investigating nature or the artist admiring it, the person who is interested in things that are not human. Or if he is interested in human beings, let him regard them objectively as a small part of the great music.”
I finished my walk on the forest’s edge, where the great music of crashing waves flooded into the tide pools, where wind ruffled devil’s club leaves, and hermit thrushes sang. I reminded myself that the wisest, most inspired people I knew had all taken this second path, heading for what I call the Far Outside. It is the path found when one falls into “the naturalist’s trance,” the hunter’s pursuit of wild game, the curandera’s search for hidden roots, the fisherman’s casting of the net into the current, the water witcher’s trust of the forked willow branch, the rock climber’s fixation on the slightest details of a cliff face. Why is it that when we are hanging from the cliff–beyond the reach of civilization’s safety net, rather than in it–we are most likely to gain the deepest sense of what it is to be alive? Arctic writer-ethnographer Hugh Brody has brooded over this question while working in the most remote human communities and wildest places he can find. There, he admits, “at the periphery is where I can come to understand the central issues of living.”
I think that, like walking in wilderness, imagining is a way to jump out of civilization’s horrifying limits, to this Far Outside. In imagining we are not constrained by today’s laws and today’s suffocating realities and today’s learned helplessness and all the things we’re told, every day, in a million different ways, we cannot do, that are impossible.
It is only then that one is brought back to Earth with the terrible question that always puts us back in our place: What is the point in such imagining if there is no conceivable way to get there? But this question is a trick, a trap: If you can imagine yourself in such a future you have already conceived of its possibility. You have already started the process in motion. Rather than falling back you must continue to imagine, continue the process. You don’t need a plan. If what you have imagined is your true purpose, your destination, you will find your way there — everything you do will start being informed by this new objective, this new intention. The key is to let it drive you, to haunt you, and not sedate yourself with the lie of its impossibility. It is what Feith Stuart calls ‘Acting in Accordance’:
This is the most difficult step. Youíre going to find yourself arguing with yourself like a loony. Fake it until you make it in this case. Whenever you start doubting yourself, shift your focus. Start thinking about something else entirely. Focus on the fact that the process is already underway. And then do something, one thing, that will lead to your intention.
You think perhaps you don’t have the courage to do this, to keep it up until you’re suddenly there, having realized your intention? Read this remarkable woman’s story and be inspired by her courage. Courage is realizing you don’t have any other choice but to be brave, and then doing it. You don’t have any other choice. This is your intention. This is why you’re here.
Close your eyes, and imagine. Five years, ten years from now. What are you doing? Who are you?
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2023)
--- My Best 200 Posts, 2003-22 by category, from newest to oldest ---
Hope — On the Balance of Probabilities
The Caste War for the Dregs
Recuperation, Accommodation, Resilience
How Do We Teach the Critical Skills
Collapse Not Apocalypse
'Making Sense of the World' Reading List
Notes From the Rising Dark
What is Exponential Decay
Collapse: Slowly Then Suddenly
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Making Sense of Who We Are
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Post Collapse with Michael Dowd (video)
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Requiem for a Species
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
If We Had a Better Story...
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Hard Part is Finding People Who Care
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
A Short History of Progress
The Boiling Frog
Our Culture / Ourselves:
A CoVid-19 Recap
What It Means to be Human
A Culture Built on Wrong Models
Our Unique Capacity for Hatred
Not Meant to Govern Each Other
The Humanist Trap
Amazing What People Get Used To
My Reluctant Misanthropy
The Dawn of Everything
Why Misinformation Doesn't Work
The Lab-Leak Hypothesis
The Right to Die
CoVid-19: Go for Zero
The Process of Self-Organization
The Tragic Spread of Misinformation
A Better Way to Work
The Needs of the Moment
Ask Yourself This
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
May I Ask a Question?
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
Learning From Nature
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
Making Sense of Scents
An Age of Wonder
The Truth About Ukraine
The Supply Chain Problem
The Promise of Dialogue
Too Dumb to Take Care of Ourselves
Republicans Slide Into Fascism
All the Things I Was Wrong About
Several Short Sentences About Sharks
How Change Happens
What's the Best Possible Outcome?
The Perpetual Growth Machine
We Make Zero
How Long We've Been Around (graphic)
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
Loren Eiseley, in Verse
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self, and Free Will:
No Free Will, No Freedom
The Other Side of 'No Me'
This Body Takes Me For a Walk
The Only One Who Really Knew Me
No Free Will — Fightin' Words
The Paradox of the Self
A Radical Non-Duality FAQ
What We Think We Know
Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark
Healing From Ourselves
The Entanglement Hypothesis
Nothing Needs to Happen
Nothing to Say About This
What I Wanted to Believe
A Continuous Reassemblage of Meaning
No Choice But to Misbehave
What's Apparently Happening
A Different Kind of Animal
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
How Our Bodies Sense the World
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
Mindful Wanderings (Reflections) (Archive)
A Prayer to No One
Frogs' Hollow (Short Story)
We Do What We Do (Poem)
Negative Assertions (Poem)
Reminder (Short Story)
A Canadian Sorry (Satire)
Under No Illusions (Short Story)
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
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Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
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The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
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