'Where there is no vision, the people perish ...' (Proverbs 29:18)
These words, written perhaps three thousand years ago, are more vibrantly important today than ever. We are certainly 'living in interesting times,' according to the ancient Chinese blessing. But it seems that every truly profound point in human evolution comes with many possible outcomes, and every great uncertainty can be perceived as a vista of opportunity, or a chasm of dread. And whether we are able to proceed into the next century excited by the invitation of opportunity, on the one hand, or paralyzed by fear on the other, makes all the difference. It makes all the difference in the quality of our individual lives, and in the communities and futures we create. This is indeed the best of all times to be alive, and the rising generations should see it as their birthright to not simply repair the insults of modern life, but to envision new and more brilliant dreams and to bring them into fruition. The key to this disposition to living, however, is that one cannot simply proclaim it. We don't have the luxury of insisting on a view of life that we don't actually feel to be true. And there are plenty of authoritative voices ready to insist that, at the end of the twentieth century we have matured from the humanist ideal of man being the measure of all things to, as writer and teacher Catherine Stimpson has put it, 'men are nothing but things to be measured.'
In order for us to live an intelligent and spiritual life, and reach an appreciation for the miracle of our existence and our ability, indeed our calling, to envision, we must first understand how we arrived at our present collision of powerful insights and fear of those insights. We have arrived at an historical juncture where envisioning must be embraced not by a few intellectual or spiritual leaders, but by the many. What are the essential qualities of envisioning? How can we, as communities and cultures, transcend the informational noise that keeps our attention focused on problems rather than possibilities? How can we best invite the rising generations into the creative act of remaking our world? How can we incorporate essential learning into new wisdom paths, without drowning in either academic or religious dogma? Is it possible that storytelling might be the most human of practices and a pathway for visions? These are the questions that inform the journey you are invited to take in The Persistence of Visions.
This book provides new lines of sight on the most important themes of late twentieth century culture and our possible futures. Educators, religious and political leaders, community and urban planners, and anyone who seriously reflects on society and meaning will want to consider these insights on the nature and power of envisioning.
The subject matter of this book spans many fields, and may appeal to readers approaching envisioning from disparate vantage points. This book takes up various lines of inquiry and their trajectories intersect with writings of other contemporary authors whose work might be familiar to readers. In order to alert readers to congruences, I shall mention several dominant themes and approaches in this book along with other writers whom I find compelling in these themes and whose work has informed my own.
1. Spirituality: I urge the essential nature of spiritual reality (as opposed to materialist 'flatland') in tones similar to Ken Wilber (The Marriage of Sense and Soul), and Thomas Moore (The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life), as well as the writings of Thich Nhat Hahn, Lex Hixson, Stephen Mitchell, and David Steindl-Rast.
2. Stories: I work from a presupposition that storytelling is one of the most powerful human experiences, and that the stories we create are the most significant determiners of meaning and satisfaction in life. Here, I am most impressed by Dan P. McAdams and his book The Stories We Live By: personal myths and the making of the self, as well as Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life.
3. Choosing Futures: By this I mean that we have the ability to reach beyond our circumstances and create futures consciously, according to our best insights, both intellectual and spiritual. Authors of importance to me here include Robert Bellah, et. al. (The Good Society), Winnifred Gallagher (The Power of Place), Francis Moore Lappe, and Ellen Ullman (Close to the Machine: technophilia and its discontents).