Revitalizing the Rational Imagination

July 8th, 2008

As a child, I was often called imaginative, but it wasn’t meant as a compliment. It was meant in a “reality-is-calling, get your head out of the clouds”, kind of way. It was meant to discourage me from believing in the impractical or impossible.

I knew something then, though, that I couldn’t yet communicate. I knew that besides being the product of a vivid imagination, my vivid daydreams and imaginary friends were the creations of a mind striving to find rationality. That I created them as a rational response to an early life that left me striving to make sense of realities that, at ages 4, 5 and 6, were incomprehensible.

I know now, long past childhood, that the line between imagination and rationality is not meant to be a divider, but a connecting link. That imagination runs fluid with solutions and possibilities, while the rational mind filters them and gives them solid shape.

So Mars girls sprung to life to whisper words of wisdom into ears that needed to hear that them, while dark-eyed Amazons taught me to stand strong in adversity, and to fight for a self that had no other champions. The Dove Woman, representing peace, nurtured my want for love and gentleness.

I did survive, and I grew strong in the process. My spirit may be somewhat battle-worn, but I’m still able to fight the good fight without compromising my own feelings of tenderness and love.

And I know that the stereotypes are not true. A rational mind is not rigid, and a dreamer is not lost in the illogical. That both rationality and imagination are behind every brush stroke of Mona Lisa’s smile, and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. That they connect – beautifully – in the pen strokes of Shakespeare and the musical notes of Mozart; in the quick wit of Dorothy Parker and George Carlin; and in the inventive genius of men like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Bill Gates. That each of us, as human beings, share this connection.

John Lennon struck a chord when he sang, “you may say I’m a dreamer, well, I’m not the only one”. And he was right. To be human is to dream — and it is rational to want to bring our dreams to life. We are, each of us, gifted with complexity, and a bit of the divine.

We are not a single equation, but millions of equations, and if we were to each follow our highest sum, we would find ourselves not divided, but united. Not alone in our idealism, but joined. Not lost in dreams, but invested in making them come true.

We would not lean on tradition as excuse, and sayings like “well, it’s always been this way” would never be an acceptable justification for leaving things broken or in disrepair.

It’s a new election season in America, and on the heels of disaster, the possibility of change sparks both our imaginations and our desire for a more rational world. Is it possible, we ask, to heal the wounds of people and the rift between nations?

Is it possible to overcome the dogmatists who have sanctioned the rule of morally bankrupt and intellectually empty leaders? Can the voices of reason and compassion rise above the rallying cries of war and more war?

It was dissent against rigid dogmas, and not mindless compliance, that informed every word of our Declaration of Independence. And then, as now, the dissenters seek both a dream and an absolute. The dream is peaceful progress. The absolute is never again. Never again can we allow the want of revenge to override reason. Never again can we stand idly while politicians and big corporations sink our country into the swamp of a $9 billion dollar debt.

I believe the voice of rationality can overcome the stalemate and roadblocks not only of political divisions, but many other issues. My imagination sees the possibilities.

Presently, thousands of children live in the limbo of foster care. I can imagine a day when the most innocent and vulnerable among us are truly protected, not just in a moment of crises, but for the duration of their childhoods. When the “best interests of the child” is a promise fulfilled, and where a child’s right to live in safety, and without fear, is considered paramount.

I imagine a world in which every child is given multiple and varied opportunities to find, nurture, and expand their potential – and where doing so is not a luxury, but a given.

I believe that if we were truly motivated to nurture the best within our children, we would find many more Galileos in our midst. Einsteins and Newtons, Van Goghs and O’Keefes.

In a country that sought to revitalize the rational-imaginative minds of its people, we might see a final end to discrimination based on class, color, or sexuality. We might see a day when false limitations are universally known and believed to be false – and where character really is the ultimate determinant of one’s opportunities.

I can envision a time when rational tolerance is practiced. When the steady progression of humankind is the goal of all cultures, including the cultures of the religious and the traditionalists.

Neither religion nor tradition should stunt the evolution of humanity, or become an obstacle to individual liberties and freedoms. I would proffer that no God or other high-minded entity would have us mutilate the genitals of little girls, rape scores of women, or slay, torture, or starve thousands of people in order to advance a political, religious, or cultural agenda. To live in a world where even one act of such violence is considered unavoidable, or par for the course, is to have twisted the concept of tolerance into soulless apathy.

Humanity is not soulless, but our problems are many, our divisions are great, and recent years have discouraged our ideals. So many, reeling from tragedy, or facing a time of personal crises, are feeling the weight of despair. They may even be afraid to hope for better days, particularly in a climate that has traded rational imagination for deepening political divides. A climate in which war, torture, and death was marketed as a rational response, and those who sought answers and accountability were derided as “bleeding hearts”.

There’s a saying – “we all want to change the world.” Actually, we know that some, particularly those who profit in a time of war and destruction, would like to see it not change at all. Others find change threatening in some fashion.

The dreamers among us move forward, past our fears, because our minds recognize them as unnecessary limitations, and our imagination longs to see what is on the other side. We long to expand the boundaries and break the unnecessary barriers. We long to fill our individual selves with the light of possibility, and then carry that torch to the outside world. We long to create a legion of united individualists, who will stand together and usher in a new age of revitalization, and the reconciliation of our ideals with our everyday realities.

If we can dream it, it is possible. A battle to revitalize our spirits requires no enemies, and a revolution needs no guns when the goal is peace.

22 Responses to “Revitalizing the Rational Imagination”

  • Jane … Your words lift me! I am yet again, inspired by your writing. I am printing this puppy out for the fridge. Yep … that’s right … the place of honor previously occupied by the likes of Erma Bombeck, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and William Butler Yeats (just to name a few)… welcomes you.

  • I don’t have a way with words. But I love words. The reading of them, the spoken word. Your writing inspires me, not just with the content but also with the way the sentences are formed and the words you use. Each time you post here, I know I am going to think, learn, ponder, wonder, hope…Thank you for sharing your gift. You put thoughts and ideas to words in a magical and beautiful way.

  • Your words are like music. The latest symphony is inspiring and beautiful. Play on, Jane.

  • Consider my rational imaginative mind revitalized!

    How is it that you keep reading thoughts I’ve never expressed and express them for me? There’s so much here that I also believe, from the reasons children create imaginary friends, to how their needs should come before their parents in laws, and how God should never be an excuse for violence, and how we shouldn’t settle for apathy.

    Like John I’m going to print this one out. Beautiful words, beautiful thoughts!

  • Amen! and Amen!

    Better than most sermons I’ve ever suffered through.

    Again - amen and amen.

  • A topic close to my heart, a rationalist and a dreamer, a practical woman and a creative soul who strives to live a life that honors and respects both voices and perspectives in me and in others.

    Too many people exercise their brain only by offering arguments and not solutions, criticism and not inspiration, dogma and not thought.

    One of my favorite people in the world is a research scientist with a brilliant mind and a good soul.

    Yesterday he said to me, “I’m a hopeless idealist. Ha, ha. Maybe I’m an oxymoron too!”

    To which I replied, “better to be an oxymoron than a plain moron.”

    This piece is another of your gems that I know I will revisit over and over again.

    You should try to get it posted on Salon or another appropriate forum. It’s brilliant and should be read by EVERYONE.

  • That was so inspirational, Jane. But I would like to make the distinction between art and real life. I believe in those imaginary friends we all have. They represent something important to each of us. I believe it is imagination that fuels our art, with our rationality creating order.

    I’m not convinced that imagination is enough to change the world. There needs to be a whole lot more rationality in the equation than in art. Many of the world’s problems stem from this imagination — religion, tribalism, beliefs. To those who believe in them, these are the “higher” ideals. Not everyone follows John Lennon. Whenever the imagination is allowed to lead us somewhere — there is always danger lurking, such as with the idealistic views of the Soviets or Nazis. .. or even the Christian-based ideology of President Bush. Most of the changes in this country came about through hard legal battles combined with the idealism that pushed the agenda.

    I guess what I am saying is that I love the artists, painters, and philosophers of this world, but I don’t want them to run our world. Even poets need those boring guys to do their taxes.

  • Ah, But Neil, if we didn’t have taxes we wouldn’t need those boring lemmings who have wrought such havoc upon the rest of us!

    And, yes, Jane–imagination IS a double-edged sword, but, as your revolution advocates, there’s enough goodness in all of us to overcome the twisted imaginings of those who seek solely for themselves and a handful of cohorts vs. humanity.

    Thank you once again, Jane for giving me something more salient to ponder as I go forth in my day than the ponderous pounding of nails and buzzing of saws as the casita continues towards completion. Your wisdom is my respite.

  • Oh, Neil, I don’t know where to begin! First, I called this the “rational imagination” because that’s what I espouse. The stereotypes you present of artists as somehow wishy-washy or irrational is so common — and really so wrong. Neither Picasso nor Bill Gates could have created what they did without BOTH rationality and imagination. Human beings are quite capable of both. Including human beings who are accountants, lawyers, and business people. Including artists, writers, and yes, even poets.

    When any of us are confronted with a problem, e.g., “I’m hungry”, we reach for the first rational solution, e.g., “eat”. However, if the cupboards are bare and the fields are empty, and a solution is not handy, we reach into our imagination and find creative ways to solve the problem.

    The black & white stereotypes so many people hold of dreamers and rationalists are largely a myth. We are not a one-dimensional species.

    I also do not believe it was the imagination of people that brought us Nazis and extremist religions — I believe FEAR, and LACK of imagination is dangerous. When one cannot imagine living in peace with neighbors who are different from them — when they cannot imagine letting people of other races or religions share space with them — when they FEAR change and difference, they are exhibiting a lack of rational imagination.

    Lastly, the myths have played a part in the tragedies of today. The rationally imaginative people, who stood against the Iraq war, and who have promoted alternative solutions, have been derided as “bleeding hearts”, “liberals”, “peaceniks” — while murder, torture and destruction have been marketed by Republicans as a thoroughly rational response!

    The media followed the stereotypes, and created something of a “poet v. politician” scenario, knowing that, after years of marketing B&W stereotypes, indeed no one wants “poets running the country.” Even if the poets are fully capable of being rational — even if they’re the only ones telling the truth — even when they are the ones looking for solutions that don’t involve the deaths of thousands.

    Well, there ya go. You made me write another speech. :-)

  • Jane - absolutely beautiful - I love to read your writing. I have a quote by Hilda Bernstein in my office “the meaning of life is a choice you make about the way you live”…your writing is going up on my wall as well…to inspire me. Thank you.

  • I have to disagree with Neil … only because first comes thought, then comes action. And if the world is to change, it has to start with one person imagining it differently and then taking the personal action to make it so. If enough people have the vision/imagination and take the “right” action, the world will change.

    By espousing the rational imagination, I believe Jane harnesses the wild running horses of a child’s imagination and directs it to productive and good use.

    I also must say that this seemed a very spiritual posting to me, as well. I sense that beneath the battle worn spirit and the profound aggravation with conventional idiocy, there not only lies the inspiring writing of a muse, but also the heart of a peacemaker. If a person can survive intense and harmful dysfunction when a teeny child — I don’t mean if it happens when you’re like a teenager or something — I mean when you’re small enough to have it screw with your hard wiring, and still live to write about it the way Jane does, well then I can’t help but see a purpose … an enormous spiritual purpose.

    Perhaps it doesn’t seem that way … particularly when one is in the trenches.

    But I see it from out here.

    The words inspire and invoke reflection in others.

    That’s spirituality at its core, I think.


  • yes, donna, i agree…spirituality at it’s core and the definition of the human condition. so well said Jane. we all live in duality which is why my soul feels so torn at times.

    however, this little comment completely derailed most of what i had planned to say to you:

    “Whenever the imagination is allowed to lead us somewhere — there is always danger lurking, such as with the idealistic views of the Soviets or Nazis…”


    that was the scariest thing i’ve read all month. good lord, man. fox news could not have said that better. you are talking about Fascism, fer crissake, NOT idealism. and i’ll take it further by saying statement just like that one lead to Nazi domination. [yeeeah, what Jane later said]

    ugh. i need to go calm down for a minute…..

    carry on.

  • Again. You have been gifted and gifting to create and define many of my own thoughts and concerns in a far more clear and concise manner. You have provided me clarity from cobwebs. Don’t know how you do it…but please don’t stop.

  • Thought-provoking, goosebump-providing, truly inspiring “sermon”, Jane, and reminded me of one of my favorite quotes: “Change happens at the speed of thought”.

    We are a fear-based society (which explains why McCain still has supporters) and I oftentimes have to scratch my head and ask, Why do we keep doing things the same, yet expecting different results? We will only grow as a nation when we finally start helping people rather than tearing them down. When we stop spending $341 million per day on a War of Terror. When we start making our children a real priority, rather than a sound bite. When we start accepting other people’s differences, rather than running in fear from them. Right now we are stunted, stalled and plain old stuck as a nation. I can only hope that our future is brighter than our past.

    Once again I AMAZED by your words, your talent and you as a person, Jane!

  • The first speech was brilliant.
    The second even brighter.
    Fearless. Honest. Frank.
    You are my hero today, Jane!

  • yes!
    in my opinion, imagination leads to planning- which is rational. and rational thinking leads to imagining, even if it is imagining a “plan”.
    rationally speaking, both exists in the equation of a circle; or a squiggly line connected at either end.
    as far as i’m concerned, it’s undeniable.
    GREAT post, Jane!

  • Through your writing, I can imagine a world where it was possible for everybody to live up to their potential, creating the groundwork for true liberty and happiness.

    Yes, “afraid to dream” does seem like where we’re at now. It’s been a long time since the middle and lower classes felt like they were part of the political system, and part of the american dream.

    Like you, I want us to get back into a place of progress, so that we can invest back into people, and not war and machines!

  • My daughter had a imiginary friend when she was little. His name was “Ick” and he was a friendly lil fellow. I remember one day after strapping her in to her car seat and of course my own belt I put the car in drive and my daughter shrieked. I stopped and looked back and she said mommy the car is not suppoose to go unless everyone has their seatbelt on. Ick doesnt have his on. How could I have forgotten Ick?
    I had to get out of the car and put the middle strap around Ick.
    Ick liked freeze pops too. Then one day Ick just left no fan fair, he just decided it was time to move and find a new friend.

  • As always, AMAZING! FANTASTIC! BEAUTIFUL! Oh wait, let me pick just one thing to comment on so you know it’s really me.
    Did they have the same Dove ads they do NOW when you were a kid?
    Love ya!

  • Again Jane….speaking from my heart. Even though I’m not very good, or published or known, I consider myself a poet and a dreamer. But I am also a rationalist. Those two parts of myself are often at battle with eachother over work, parenting, responsiblity and creativity. I wish I could figure out how to do both at the same time!

    Loving your words…and I so agree!

  • me thinks you should get yourself hooked up with the Obama campaign and be added to his speech writing team- while your writing your own book, as you well should
    If you are moving to California, we REALLY NEED amazing people like you to teach!
    Our school district is almost always hiring!
    I don’t think minds like yours deserve to be tortured by corporate America; however, all the still open and growing minds desperately need the brilliant special people to help them grow and learn

  • Beautiful, just masterfully done.

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