We All Become the Difference

I believe in the power of positive visioning to shape the future. What we can imagine as individuals and collectively, we can manifest. When we move beyond a hazy dream to a detailed visualization, we can realize the dream, perhaps not in exact detail, but usually in the spirit of our good intentions. In this video that Dennis Hysom and I created, and in all the visual facilitation work that I do, I hope to inspire myself and others for best possible outcomes.

Does it follow that if we imagine the horrible, we could manifest that too? That’s what worries me about this election. The Republican presidential candidate spews hatred and negativity. His rhetoric would have us imagine a divisive America where we build a border wall, are suspicious of Muslim neighbors, condone torture, legislate women’s rights, and laugh off men’s sexual predatory behavior as locker room antics. A reality TV celebrity, the candidate has no record of public service, but a history of serving his own fame and fortune through proliferating his name, bankruptcies, lawsuits, and unfair wage practices. The list goes on. This has become an election not about conservative or progressive policies but about decent human values. How can we as Americans in the year 2016 allow even the possibility of these imaginings becoming a reality?

Words matter. “Inspirational” is defined as “something that makes someone want to do something or gives someone an idea about what to do or create.” This limited definition could apply to acts of good or evil. But the word derives from the Latin inspirare “to breathe into.” It has roots in theology as a “divine influence.” I think of breath and life as good, so I’m using “inspirational” as positive. “Insidious,” on the other hand, is “intended to entrap or beguile, stealthily treacherous or deceitful, proceeding in a seemingly harmless way, but actually with grave effect.”

While making calls this week from California to get out the vote for Hillary Clinton and democratic candidates in other states, I spoke to a 28-year-old man in North Carolina named Jamal. At first he said he isn’t voting this year because both current candidates are “evil.” He was fuming, but I sensed that his angry veneer had a slit for hope. As Leonard Cohen says “There is a crack in everything, That’s how the light get’s in.”

I asked Jamal if wanted to talk about it, and he did. So I listened and asked questions. His anger had been fueled by insidious campaign rhetoric and trumped-up media; he had absorbed much misinformation about Hillary Clinton. He was planning on showing up at a Trump rally to disrupt, not in support of Hillary, but just to vent his anger. I shared my admiration for Hillary’s years of public service and my concerns. I’d read more deeply than he had about some of the issues and gave him some facts.

He opened up more, saying that he’d never known America to be great, not in his lifetime, that things are unfair, the system has to break down. I told him that my son, also 28, has similar views. I shared that I was much older, that I’d grown up in the 50s and 60s, was his age in the late 70s. I know I’ve been fortunate to have a caring family, good education, and career opportunities. I told him I believed in a positive vision for the future and said that what he’s doing—I’d learned that he’s involved in his community, intended to vote for local candidates—is powerful. He’s a fan of the Obamas, after all. We talked about how much we’ll miss the Obamas. How much our President has accomplished and how we want the next president to build on Obama’s legacy, not dismantle it.

Ultimately, Jamal said he will cast a vote for Hillary, deeming her “the lessor of two evils.” We agreed to have hope for this election and the future. He said he has respect for women. He has a good relationship with his mother and said, “Maybe we need a woman.”

Our conversation inspired us both. From across the continent and generations, he sketched for me a picture of his world, very different from mine, and gave me a glimpse into the disillusionment that is widespread and must be heard and addressed. Together, we sketched a positive vision and felt empowered that we each could make a difference. I went on to the next call, feeling so much more hopeful than I would have had if I’d stayed home and read the news.

Strategic Visualization & Empathy

Empathy is the “identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.” As a nation, as a culture, as individuals, we become healthier by being able to imagine what it’s like to be someone else, to vicariously experience another’s vulnerabilities and hardships, as well as motivations and successes. Through visualization that incorporates all the senses, we can elicit empathy to communicate better and solve problems more effectively.

Whole-body Thinking When facilitating leadership groups, I introduce the concept of whole-body thinking by saying the word “chair” and asking people what comes to mind. Even with small groups, where everyone is sitting in the exact same type of chair, there is never consensus. If you’ve just returned from vacation, are a new mother, have a bad back, or like to read comfortably, the chair in your mind might be a beach, rocking, ergonomic, or not a chair at all, but the sense of comfort you have when reading in your favorite spot. You might only have a clear image of the utilitarian chair beneath you in the meeting room. Our understanding of concepts is layered in our bodies and minds through memory and the senses. If we think we’re all talking about an idea without acknowledging and articulating our affinity for and experiences with those concepts, then we’re not communicating well. Words alone, though we think we agree on their meaning, can mislead even our best intentions.

Visual Thinking enriches ideas and clarifies communication © Christine Walker

Whole-body thinking clarifies concepts and enriches communication © Christine Walker

How does your sensory experience, memory, knowledge, and imagination enable you to be more empathic? If the “chair” you’re discussing is actually health, education, equity, leadership or any other concept where you are seeking discovery and collaboration, how might you use visualization tools for whole-body thinking? The empathy that we get from “stepping into someone else’s shoes” or “sitting in someone else’s chair” helps us deepen conversations and realize productive outcomes.

Seek ways to bring empathy into productive conversations ©Christine Walker

Seek ways to bring empathy into productive conversations ©Christine Walker