Filed under: Pakistan, social | Tags: elise boulding, future, imaging, Pakistan
As I write this, the last day of the decade dawns. And I wonder: what did Pakistanis imagine for themselves and the country as 1999 drew close? What were our dreams and aspirations?
A while back after a series of terrorist attacks in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, my grandmother remarked that she had never even feared that we would be living in such times. She found it difficult to relate with the times we are living in today. What did her generation envision as a future for their grandchildren?
Another incident: a few weeks ago, I observed two boys (about 5 and 7 years of age) engaged in a role-play game. They were wielding play-guns and running around corners shooting. Every now and then, the older of the two would tell the other that he had spotted a ‘terrorist’ and they should lob a bomb now. What do they imagine themselves as when they grow up?
Yes, we are living through difficult times. Times where not only do we have to deal with mundane worries like power and gas shortages but where we now live under the constant fear for our lives. Times in which mosques have lost their sanctity and students and international players seemingly constitute legitimate targets. One by one, all of our reservations and pillars of faith have been stripped away. Indeed, the times are tough and hope is little. But that is not what I want to write about in this post.
A few months ago, Ayeda Naqvi wrote this brilliant article in the Daily Times. The article called for harnessing a ‘collective consciousness’ of love and hope – for imagining better times to overcome prevalent hopelessness and to beat the ways of hatred and violence. She noted that when individuals join the group in visualising change, they create greater momentum for it:
More specifically, as the “individual mind” becomes a part of the “group mind”, the change that takes place is like the circular ripples that radiate out as a pebble is thrown into a pond, representing the widening of our identities. And as our sense of self expands beyond our egos, into a collective consciousness, we are able to affect change on a global level.
The essential argument that Ayeda made was this: we need to set time apart every day to imagine a better life and to create waves of love, peace and harmony. I am sure there are more than a few people scoffing at this stage and thinking: what rubbish! But hear me out. Ayeda’s article reminded me of another peace activist.
Elise Boulding is a big name in peace research and practice. During the Cold War, she used to conduct ‘Imaging Workshops’ where participants would conceptualise a world without nuclear weapons. She notes:
So I began these imaging workshops: stepping people 30 years into the future, giving them help with how their imaginations worked, and asking them to imagine a world in which there were no longer any weapons. Once they had done the imagining and sharing in groups, they had a picture of what this world could look like. Next they constructed a history of the time-line back to the present. Then participants have to decide what they will do, starting now, to help this process along. So everyone sits and meditates for a while then speaks aloud their commitments. (#)
Boulding developed on the concepts of a Dutch sociologist and historian, Fred Polak:
His thesis was that societies that have positive images of the future are empowered by their own images to act creatively in the present. Societies that have negative images will just wither away. Of course there are many cases in between. (#)
The essential idea that Polak explored was this: consciously creating mental images of the future might in its own merit uplift societies. It might even provide them with the motivation to actually make real those images. Boulding’s workshops* were an effort to enable individuals serious about disarmament construct a different world and then to retrace their steps to determine what was needed to be done in order to achieve it.
So here’s the idea that I am toying with: it’s time Pakistan ‘imaged’ the future. Television pundits and newspaper columnists can point to a million reasons for our failures and merrily paint many a doomsday scenarios.
I think there is some merit to Polak’s argument that societies with negative images just wither away. I think we are in danger of withering away because we are not proactive in imaging and working towards better futures. India dreams and puts a rocket in space, China dreams and works towards maintaining a 8% growth rate, Dubai dreams and develops the grandest (and most absurd) of structures. Where is Pakistan’s future? More importantly, what is Pakistan’s future?
Ayeda Naqvi talks about a collective consciousness to beat the waves of hatred, violence and terror. I say that we need to take it a step further. Lets develop a consensus on the future – where do we want Pakistan to stand when the next decade turns? Or even 5 years from now!
After all, before we build a house, we imagine and design it. Only once have we created a blueprint, do we start building. I believe this has to be our objective for the next year: lets develop a blueprint for Pakistan’s future. It is time to develop a collective image of the future. What sort of Pakistan will the next seven generations of Pakistanis grow up in?
Any takers? Or would we prefer to be mere spectators as history unfolds itself? In the words of John Lennon: Imagine!
*More can be read about these Imaging Workshops in Elise Boulding, “The Challenge of Imaging Peace in Wartime,” Futures, June 1999. Drop me an email if you would like a copy of the article.
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