Visioning for a Better World: Why and How

I never would have said it is possible for apartheid to end in South Africa or the whole of the Eastern world to come back to democracy, yet it happened. ... What is the sustainable world that you would like to live in, that would satisfy your deepest dreams and longings? 

—DONELLA MEADOWS, 1994

Our culture is saturated with negative visions of the future, as seen in dystopian or apocalyptic movies and novels. Creating a shared positive vision of a sustainable and desirable world is the most crucial task facing humanity today. A shared vision can change the world, and is one of the few methods that actually can.

Matt_Westervelt_flickr_3c_600.jpgEvery project, every human venture starts with a thought, an idea, or a vision. The first necessary ingredient in making positive and specific changes is having a clear vision of the desired goal, This is followed by honing and analysis, then by implementation. Yet a trap many problem-solvers often fall into is to skip the visioning process altogether. Action and change, without appropriate vision of the goals and analysis of the best methods to achieve it, can be worse than counterproductive.

Vision gives you the power to resist seductive, short-term, self-centered perspectives. It informs your choices, reveals options, and opens awareness of positive developments. It tells you where to put your energy and who your partners are. Visioning is actually a very practical process, in helping one find direction and set goals. To make collective visions a reality, they must be shared by a large segment of citizens within an organization, community, or nation.

General concepts and pointers

  • It can be difficult at first, and it gets easier as you go along.
  • Articulate or seek what you want, not what you think you can get. Let go of your definition of what is possible.
  • You are under no obligation to explain how to get there from here (which is not known at first).
  • However, visions do need to become honed by analysis. Visions become responsible through sharing with others, who bring in their knowledge, viewpoints, and their own vision. The more a vision is shared, the more responsible and ethical it becomes.
  • The more a vision is worked with, the more clear and real it becomes.

Spend some quiet time contemplating a sustainable future without fossil fuels, a world that works for all of humanity. What comes up for you? Share your vision with someone who can appreciate it, and ask them to share their vision with you.

False beliefs

  • Special training is required.
  • Visioning is just a waste of time--let’s get to the laws we need to pass.
  • Focus on problems is sufficient (we don’t need positive vision to motivate us).
  • Visions are dangerous. Visionaries should be viewed with suspicion.

Where does our resistance come from?

  • Feeling it is too disappointing when we try things that don’t work, so we let go of vision.
  • Feeling it is too painful to envision a world we really want, in contrast to current realities.

Somehow, we can share our cynicism with total strangers, but not our vision, our hopes, and our deepest longings. We are not born with this resistance to positive vision. Children are natural visionaries. We are all born with a sense of what the world should be like, and what we deeply want the world to be like. Vision comes not from the intellect, but another place you might call the heart and soul.

From Dana Meadows: Lecture, “Down to Earth,” International Society of Ecological Economics Conference, Costa Rica, October 1994, recorded by Griesinger Films, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiUJaliYw5c   

and Robert Costanza: Introduction of “Creating a Sustainable and Desirable Future: Insights from 45 Global Thought Leaders,” Robert Costanza, ed., World Scientific Publishing Co., July 2014.


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