I opened the first workshop by asking, “What is your vision of a world without hunger?” Coached by Peter, I made the request strongly visionary. I asked people to describe not the world they thought they could achieve, or the world they were willing to settle for, but the world they truly wanted.

What I got was an angry reaction. The participants refused. They said that was astupid and dangerous question. Here are some of their comments:

  • Visions are fantasies, they don’t change anything. Talking about them is a waste of time. We don’t need to talk about what the end of hunger will be like, we need
    to talk about how to get there.
  • We all know what it’s like not to be hungry. What’s important to talk about is how terrible it is to be hungry,
  • I never really thought about it. I’m not sure what the world would be like without hunger, and I don’t see why I need to know.
  • Stop being unrealistic. There will always be hunger. We can decrease it, but we can never eliminate it.
  • You have to be careful with visions. They can be dangerous. Hitler had a vision. I don’t trust visionaries and I don’t want to be one.

After we got those objections out of our systems, some deeper ones came up. One person said, with emotion, that he couldn’t stand the pain of thinking about the world he really wanted, when he was so aware of the world’s present state. The gap between what he longed for and what he knew or expected was too great for him to bear. And finally another person said what may have come closer to the truth than any of our other rationalizations: “I have a vision, but it would make me feel childish and vulnerable to say it out loud. I don’t know you all well enough to do this.”

I go to a quiet place, shut down my rational mind, and develop a vision. I present the vision to others, who correct and refine it and help it to evolve. I write out vision statements. When I lose my way, I go back to those statements.

I keep practicing vision, because my life works better when I do.

I have to work actively to focus on what I want, not what I expect.

One essential tool for making vision responsible is sharing it with others and incorporating their visions. Only shared vision can be responsible. Hitler was indeed a visionary, but his vision was not shared by the Jews or the Gypsies or most of the peoples of Europe. It was an immoral, insane vision.

Vision has an astonishing power to open the mind to possibilities I would never see in a mood of cynicism. Vision widens my choices, shows me creative new directions. It helps me see good-news stories, pockets of reality that could be seeds of a wider vision.

I am constantly amazed, but increasingly convinced, that envisioning is a tool for producing results.

Above all, we could strengthen ourselves to endure the pain of the enormous gap between the world we know and the world we profoundly long for. I believe that it’s only by admitting, permitting, and carrying that pain that we can gradually move our world away from its present suffering and unsustainability and toward our deepest values and dearest visions.

from Donella (Dana) Meadows’s envisioning paper. See also this column.

I recommend especially the last part of the paper about how to envision.

For the video see this post.