So often, we restrict our response to a situation before it even begins. Until 1969, to land on the moon was deemed impossible. Before 1953, it seemed unmanageable to climb Mount Everest. New Year’s resolutions are written off before they’re attempted. Exercise plans are tucked away in fear that they’ll never be completed. When we encounter a problem, very often we are quick to build up walls, boxing ourselves in by (often self-imposed) limitations and establishing a very narrow route to guide our next step.
But what would happen if we decided to welcome the imagination back into our decision making? What would happen if we stopped being trapped by what is, and started asking ‘What if…?’.
The climate crisis can feel like one of the most limiting issues we have faced in generations. We know it is already causing harm to communities around the world. The UN’s panel of climate scientists, the International Panel on Climate Change, have warned that we only have until 2030 to dramatically reduce carbon emissions to avert catastrophic changes. Yet there are few signs that this is being taken as seriously and urgently as is required. The shifts required seem so massive and progress can feel so limited. Before we know it, we begin to narrow the path ahead with the fear our lifestyles are too hard to change, that the economy cannot be altered and that we are past the point of no return.
But what if this wake-up call could be seen not as a signal for disaster, but instead a welcome chance to try something new?
Rob Hopkins, author of From what is to what if: unleashing the power of the imagination suggests that thinking differently begins with asking the right questions. Hopkins writes:
‘We need to master the art… of asking questions which address the gravity of our situation yet which also create a longing, which evoke a deep and rich sense of the wonders we can still create, rather than shutting it down or putting it into a deep sleep of complacency.’
Hopkins’ vision for asking these questions begins with two simple words: ‘What If?’. To ask ‘what if?’ begins to open a door to something new, letting light from the other side seep in and create an opening. ‘It is as much of an invitation as a question’, Hopkins explains; ‘a space we create and hold’.
The right kind of ‘what if’ questions create space that is genuinely curious, not letting anticipated outcomes lurk in the shadows but allowing multiple answers to hold the same priority and power. What if public transport worked for everyone? What if people were guaranteed enough money to be secure? It offers a sideways look at an issue, bringing new perspective and perhaps new challenge. In creating these kinds of ‘what if’ spaces, the anticipation of potential begins to breathe life into deadlocked situations, ‘like lifting a curtain…a glimpse of something you can step into’. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it starts with a blank sheet of paper – the best kind of ‘what if’ questions offer constraints which allow the imagination to flourish, responding to challenges and breaking through boundary lines.
What are your ‘what if’ dreams, for your community and for our nation?
What if our communities had shared, green space at their heart?
What if most local spending stayed within the local community?
What if future generations had a say in our policies?
What if wellbeing, of people and planet, was prioritised over growth?
At the JPIT Conference, Renewal and Rebellion: Faith, Economy and Climate, we will be venturing to ask ‘what if?’. In sharing ideas, thinking creatively and joining in discussion, we will try to create a genuinely curious space in which we can imagine what change could look like. We are inviting participants to come with their own ‘what if?’ questions, for their communities and the world, and to work with others to use new tools, skills and connections to breathe life into the possibilities they hold.
Fear can pull the curtains around our imagination, leaving us with little creative resource in times of challenge. But in a small act of defiance, what might happen if we lift the curtain and peek through to possibility? What could change look like, if we begin to let the imagination back in? What if…?
Join us at the JPIT Conference, Renewal and Rebellion: Faith, Economy and Climate, at the Riverside Centre, Derby on Saturday 7 March. Bring your ‘what if?’ questions with you, for opportunities to think differently for change.