Making changes in our personal lives is a challenging activity. As a social worker, my responsibility is related to eliciting what is already inside my clients. My role with them is related to collaborating with them to draw out insight into their challenges, co-create plans for the changes they want to make, and support them as they go through the implementation of that plan. Much of their expected success is related to having a clear understanding of their problems and what they want to do about addressing those difficulties. Developing a vision and having the courage for its implementation is valuable in a broad number of aspects of our personal and societal lives.
Moving towards a goal or create something based on a vague and nondescript notion often results in inaction or failure. This is true in our mental health and our general lives. As an example, Spring is starting, and I love being outside more. In considering making changes to my yard, I might have a vague vision of “making my backyard more beautiful.” This can be a practical first step, but most changes require significantly more details and specifics to be beneficial. I could go and haphazardly do a couple of small projects without much planning or specific vision1, but this becomes less effective when the desire to make more systemic and sweeping changes. These more complex changes require specific and defined plans. Covey (2004) described this as the habit of “beginning with the end in mind.”
Teasing out my desire for a more beautiful backyard, I could go a couple of directions. I might consider the aesthetics that I want or some of the feelings I want to have when my backyard is improved. For example, I want more vibrant plants and greenery as well as growing productive and eatable plants. I also desire a change to my yard’s structures, such as having a gazebo I can sit under to shelter from the sun. For any of these ideas or general feelings to become real, there is a need to become increasingly specific and descriptive. What plants do I want, where will I get them from, where will they go, how do I take care of them or where will I put my gazebo, what will it be made of, what steps do I need to follow to build it. The more precise and the vision is, the easier it is actually to implement it. Whether we are talking about our yard or creating large-scale social change, there is a need for vision and courage.
Creating change is scary and difficult. In our own lives, we often want to make changes but struggle at moving forward with some of the steps to actually make the change. When changes impact others, a major element of the unknown gets thrown into the equation. When we make changes, we also frequently fail. It takes courage to stand up and work to make a change.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, narrating in The Intercept (2019) considers that sometimes change is hindered when people cannot imagine the outcomes. In introducing her reflection from the future, she describes that “people were scared, they said it was too big, too fast, not practical, I think that it’s because they just couldn’t picture it yet” (00:45). Ocasio-Cortez and the other democratic proponents of the Green New Deal have specific plans related to the significant changes needed to happen both in our lives and as a society (Klein, 2019). Those who are unable to imagine how it might look and feel about implementing the changes will likely feel like it is not possible. When we are looking at creating social change, our ideas need to be fleshed out2 and able to be imagined and understood. How else could it be implemented?
The importance of this vision is described in Indigenous theory and thought. Simpson (2011) explains that Nishnaabeg thought of resurgence or re-creation starts with a vision or a dream. This distinct understand vital in being able to create these changes. She describes that to build our fire, or what is termed Skodewin or the art of setting a fire, we need vision, intent, collectivization, and action. She describes that this promotes life, and we need the fire to make it through the challenges and hoops of resurgence.
As an additional note regarding Simpson’s (2011) writing, it is highly nuanced and filled with superb layers that I currently could not hope to replicate. The entire book is full of the Nishnaabeg language, their stories, and ideas. Through one reading and lacking the context of so many other Indigenous writers and thinkers, I feel unable to fully understand and integrate all of the meaning and frame of reference. My wife is Mexican, and much of the conversation we have at home is in Spanish or Spanglish. Spanglish is a term describing a mix of English and Spanish. Within a sentence, we might use words in both languages or some combinations of both languages. Similarly, Simpson seems to go back and forth between worlds at a rate that I feel like I need so much more exposure to see and understand it truly. The story she told of the muskrat and its paw full of dirt it had to dive down and get to understand. I feel like I might need to get many paw fulls of dirt.
Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. Free Press.
Fogarty, M. (2015, July 16) Flesh out or flush out? Quick and Dirty Tips: Do Things Better. https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/flesh-out-or-flush-out
Klein, N. (2019). On fire: The burning case for the green new deal. Knopf Canada.
Simpson, L. (2011). Dancing on our turtle’s back: Stories of Nishnaabeg re-creation, resurgence, and a new emergence. Arbeiter Ring Publishing.
The Intercept. (2019). A message from the future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/d9uTH0iprVQ
This essay was originally used a discussion forum post for TSD 6137 - Reverse Imagineering as a part of my coursework working on my Ph.D. at CIIS.
This need for change does not mean there is no place for more moment-by-moment change. I value projects that just come together and seem to “just work.” When this happens, it is frequently due to the amount of individual skill or preparation that has taken place, but there is still a place for more spur of the moment and unplanned creation and implementation. I would argue that it generally still requires lots of skill and or preparation. ↩
I think the idea of fleshing out ideas is very apt at this concept of understanding the details of our vision. It is like adding meat to the outline or skeleton of something. I drew some inspiration from Fogarty (2015) in thinking about this. ↩