The work begins. January 6, 2021 and its aftermath is a vivid demonstration of the threat to foundational principles of democracy in the United States. The reality of this threat feels too frightening to believe. We can respond by turning attention elsewhere, re-posting well-researched articles about democracy’s demise, donating to favorite candidates, talking with friends to better understand what’s happening. We can feel shocked and powerless. What other choices are there?
It’s possible to stand in the reality we experience, be mindful of the divisions between citizens, feel outraged by assaults on democratic principles; and, at the same time harness our imagination to embrace a healthy democratic culture. Finding a way through this crisis is so important we can’t rely on customary leaders to know the way. We have to imagine what’s possible ourselves. We can take heart from Einstein’s words, “imagination is more powerful than knowledge.”
The facts of January 6th and its reverberations can ignite our political imagination. Let’s see ourselves as kind-hearted and relentless citizens contributing to the wellbeing of society in ways that reinvigorate our highest sense of what’s good and what’s possible. Together, we can call attention to new images, design fresh symbols and broadcast authentic stories of deep democratic values in action.
We don’t want school children to relate the significance of January 6, 2021 with that guy with the furry hat with horns as the symbol that placed U.S. democracy in peril. The spectacle of mobs breaking down doors, lawmakers in danger, uncivility cannot become the lasting focus. No doubt, analyzing the causes and bringing perpetrators to account are necessary; but when these images and headlines are used repeatedly what feelings are engendered? What schisms of “us against them,” are perpetrated? Creative vision and pathways for a healthy democratic culture are blacked out by unceasing headlines accentuating fear, hostility, and society breakdown.
We can imagine a different path. We can create new narratives of who we are as citizens. We understand, don’t we, that violent images and narratives of democracy in peril can exist alongside healing images and new possibilities?
Take a moment – let’s imagine boldly together. Imagine a democratic culture that works for all. We can dream up compassionate, fair-minded, shockingly good “what if’s.” It’s possible to reframe these painful, scary breakdowns in society so they ignite cultural breakthroughs for a deeper democracy. Let’s imagine:
- endless newsfeeds broadcasting groups of people organizing actions for positive change
- billboards, social media and TV ads that “sell” love and respect for nature
- citizen sanctuaries where people are supported in working with their differences constructively
- transmuting one’s own pain and anxiety into inner calm and eagerness to help others.
- kindness, honesty and respect for people of all backgrounds as requirements for elected officials.
- billions of people volunteering trillions of hours to meet needs of others
- people of different religions, indigenous traditions and spiritual expressions using the wisdom of their diverse traditions to help rather than hurt one another
- the big bully fists of big money being ejected from election campaigns
- conversations in libraries that explore what’s possible, not what’s wrong in local communities.
- Feel free to add to the list….
Besides restoring hope, fun and emotional health, experiences where we imagine and initiate ways of creating a truly democratic culture empower our role as citizens and tap into joy and creativity at the heart of humanity.