How to broaden our moral imagination?


My whole life, my dad shared a metaphor that has never meant more to me than it does right now. He would say:

"Picture a vulture flying over a desert. As it flies it sees dead carcasses all over the ground. However, a hummingbird flying over the very same desert sees desert flowers. They see different things because they only see what they are looking for."

This has challenged me to look at my world differently lately. Sometimes it takes letting go of the world you know to imagine one that has yet to exist. And to change society for the better, it takes expanding our moral imagination. The story of the vulture and the hummingbird begs the question, "what are we looking for?"

Transformation occurs when people act on their convictions developed out of deeply rooted beliefs or divergent thinking. However, it can be difficult to live a transformative life with daily demands leaving no time for imagining.

The rhythm of the mundane can drown out creativity and distract us from any kind of good or moral effort we may want to make. Apathy (and sometimes bitterness) festers in a life without imagination. How then do we free ourselves to think imaginatively?

For the sake of keeping with the original metaphor, maybe making time for a "flyover" is in order. Answer the question for yourself: "what am I looking for?" And allow yourself time to do something out of the ordinary or even a little uncomfortable in order to expand and broaden your answer.

This could look as simple as a walk down a street you've never walked with the intention of seeing your neighborhood through different eyes, or striking up a conversation with a complete stranger in order to hear a story you've never heard. There is a world beyond our own where people may think and live differently than we do, but they hurt and laugh just the same. And together, with collaboration and imagination, culture can shift, change can morph into something better than it currently is.

Albert Einstein said, "Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." So where is everywhere for you? And how will you get there? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Related articles: Rhythms of a Sacramental Imagination / Lessons from a London learning lab / Living life to the fullest in Wales: Part 2