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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jul/Aug 2001 : Read on

Imaging the Future
Leading American thinkers contemplate what the future might hold.


Predicting the future is always a tricky business. The prognosticator invariably gets caught between reality and his predictions. But one organization, the Global Renaissance Alliance founded by Marianne Williamson, is dedicated to working toward a better world for future generations through social awareness, activism and spiritual empowerment. Essentially, it is an organization that wants to create the future, thereby eliminating the possibility of being caught by errant predictions about the future.

In a recent presentation at the EnvironDesign®5 conference in Atlanta, GA, Bill Browning of the Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass, CO, said that people are starving for good stories; they are looking for inspiration by learning how the first wave of environmental thinkers solved the problems of their work. I immediately thought of the recent collection of essays entitled, Imagine: What America Could Be in the 21st Century, edited by Marianne Williamson.

The book consists of 40 essays by some of America’s leading thinkers, theorists and practitioners who are trying to recreate our culture: Fred Branfman, Peter Coyote, Eric Utne, David Korten, Lance Secretan, Peter Senge, Deepak Chopra, James Redfield and Thomas Moore are among the writers who contributed their visions of future America.

These are the good success stories of the future—not particular case studies of specific problems solved—but stories of how the successful implementation of ideas might look in the middle of this century. These stories work on another level of consciousness. Imagine is a fulfilling, optimistic volume of ideas and possibilities. It is also a beautifully produced volume in its attention to detail, both graphically and photographically, and has just won the NAPRA book award.

In the first essay, Paul Hawken sets the stage with a recap of the current state of the environment. Other essays are arranged in six sections where visions of every aspect of our future social organization are revealed. Health, food, education, race, divorce, family, justice, government, political parties and the media are among the topics explored. The attempt to paint such a comprehensive picture of the future is an ambitious project, and for the most part it works quite well. This will be an interesting book to revisit from time to time to see how our reactions to these visions change as our culture evolves, as well as to see if the stories themselves can help act as catalysts for change, which Williamson clearly wants them to be.

Writing in the foreword, Anne Lamott recalls, “Marianne Williamson says that Americans are not starving for what they don’t have, but rather for what they won’t give.” It is often easy to be overwhelmed with a sense that things are hopeless, that the state of the environment is so far out of balance that it will never be healed. However, all the authors included in this book believe that by creating a sense of community and a commitment of service to others, true change can be achieved. “They are prepared to live by their own bottom line message: that separately, we face almost inevitable darkness, while together, we face unimaginable light.”

Two major themes—community and spirituality—run consistently through just about every essay in this collection. This is not a coincidence as most of the authors, regardless of their field, obviously feel that these two critical components are needed to affect the cultural and societal transformations that they seek. The concept of community—by community, I mean service—is critical to the desired transformation because it not only has the power to arrest hopelessness and fear, but also creates positive feelings through simple actions.

A growing sense of a need for deeper spirituality is pervasive. Nowhere is it more prominent than in the workplace. Polls have consistently shown that fulfillment on the job has become increasingly more important than even money or time off. Corporations can play a pivotal role in the transformation, not solely by the products or services they provide (although these are very important), but by how they treat and involve their employees in causes that excite them and lift their spirits. People are searching for a holistic approach to work and life. Like traditional Native American cultures, there will be no division between the spiritual and physical aspects of life in the future. This change is mentioned by many of the authors.

As with any collection of essays, this book is easy to read and allows random access to topics so you can recreate the order of the essays to fit your interests or your particular sense of order. While a “sameness” exists among many of the viewpoints portrayed in the essays, it is easy to understand the generally positive outlook because, after all, that is the point of the exercise. “I believe that by illuminating higher possibilities for the future, the essays here have the power to help us create them,” Williamson says.

In a Toltec shaman’s construction of the world, our reality is a dream that we have all agreed upon. In Williamson’s world, we should be able to dream our future. She writes, “Our thoughts about the future go far toward creating it; our minds and hearts are like filaments that connect today to tomorrow, they are conduits for either the status quo or the emergence of different, hopefully more loving, possibilities. How we think and how we behave determine where we are going.”

The web of human consciousness is being increasingly engaged, thanks to books like this one.

Richard Walthers (rwalthers@prairiefish. com) is an industrial designer and partner in PRAIRIE Fish, a Chicago, IL-based firm specializing in green design.

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