Imagination—the Mother of Hope and Invention
Last week I spent a chunk of my time coaching superheroes. These superheroes are commonly disguised as high school students, but last week they transformed themselves into fantasy superheroes—Ligrewoman who is so stunningly beautiful she can immobilize any foe with just a look, The Flash who moves like lightning, the Suburban Sadist, a master of deceit, and Gluttonaire, the human garbage disposal—just to name a few. The Museum Teen Volunteers performed their annual murder mystery over the weekend, and once again, fantasy was the name of the game.
However, there was more than play going on. I believe these teens were actually in training for a “superhero” role in real life. It takes unbridled imagination to be a hero. I think of heroes like suffrage pioneer Susan B. Anthony or Archbishop Desmond Tutu who had the imagination to look beyond the social constraints of their times to envision “the impossible.” Heroes are not fatalists. They have powerful imaginations that refuse to submit to fear, expediency and complacency.
Imagination is the mother of hope and invention. There is another kind of imagination that is used to deceive oneself. It rewrites history and refuses to see the suffering and disappointment in life. Imagination that breeds hope and invention understands the world for what it is, and then like a sculptor, perceives how it can be chiseled into something new.
The teens and I discussed the importance of imagination. “Is there a time in life when people are more imaginative?” Although I expected for them to indicate early childhood, most thought it was now, right where they are at present. Chelsey Walters said she does a lot of activities that require imagination. Reading books, for one. Lewis Carroll, author of the Alice in Wonderland books, is her favorite author. She’s also very involved in art at Coshocton High School. Anne Thomas, thespian, dancer and visual artist, said she cultivates her imagination by adopting a curious attitude about the things around her. She tries to look at things in a brand new way, even if she has seen it a hundred times before. Courtney Bairas agreed that the best way to engage your imagination is to experience your world like you would as a young child. She said that doing things like the murder mystery was another way to stretch your mind.
I asked the teens to complete this sentence: “Using your imagination is….” Javad Azadi was the first to speak. Using your imagination is “fundamental to our existence. It’s what makes you, you.” Others kicked in—It’s liberating. It’s invigorating—keeps you youthful and exuberant. It’s the biggest play toy ever invented. You only need yourself and a little bit of time.
Then I asked what they did to experience their imagination. I was pummeled with answers. Daydream. Do artwork. Make programs and write software. Act in the murder mystery. Play guitar. Several teens, John Pollock and Steven Shroyer, write poetry and listen to music.
I was most interested in the answer to my last question. Is there public value in imagination? Javad gave me that horrified “I-can’t-believe-you-asked-us-that” look. Of course! He went on to say that it promotes free thought and encourages progression. It was the springboard of every important 20th century equal rights movement, such as women’s liberation and civil rights. It is the root system of the environmental conservation movement. If you can’t imagine a world without trees…if you can’t imagine depleted oil reserves, you’ll not take the action needed to avoid a painful crisis.
Imagination is a form of generosity, states Paul Rogat Loeb, editor of The Impossible Will Take a Little While. “It creates an expansive vision of what’s possible and helps people recognize the fundamental bonds between them.” Now is the best time to counter those constricting “no alternative” scenarios that make us despair. Take it from the young and hopeful. Imagination is good for the soul and good for our world.