Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Borrowing Trouble

Time is asymmetrical for us. We can see the past but not influence it. We can influence the future but not see it. Both the invisibility and potential malleability of the future draw us to lean into it, alert to threat or opportunity, empowered by the blankness of its page (if the future is not determined, we might do anything).
Steward Brand, The Clock of the Long Now

I made reference to Stewart Brand several posts ago. I am finding this particular book, written in the dim past (1998), to be thought provoking. Of particular interest is a process called scenario planning, which Brand discusses in the chapter "Uses of the Future". In scenario planning, rather than trying to predict the future, participants are engaged in imagining different possible futures, based on different theories of what is going on in the present, and what might occur in the future.

After hearing my brief description of this process, Sally commented, "You would love that."

OK, I admit that I do enjoy talking about what might happen in the future, and spend more time than I'd like to admit in imaginary conversations that might take place in that invisible, potentially malleable realm. For some, imagining what might take place in the future represents mental illness at worst, and borrowing trouble at best, as if imagining problems or circumstances will somehow make them come true. Thus, if you think of ill fortune, throw a pinch of salt over your shoulder. If you think of good fortune, cross your fingers.

There are religions that teach that whatever we imagine will come true, and that whatever happens to us is the result of our thinking about it. Phrases like, "I'm not sure why I chose cancer" are in evidence. On the "positive" side of this aberrant belief, some teach that if we just imagine or pray for health, wealth, and prosperity it will be granted to us. Indeed the whole notion of intercessory prayer is based on the idea that our imagining or pleading for something will make it come to pass. I'm sorry. I've never bought into this.

Scenario planning, however, is different. In this process we are invited to imagine different paths so that we can prepare to respond. Scenario planning invites us to prepare for possible occurrences, at least mentally, rather than merely being anxious about ill fortune. The failure to envision multiple futures throws us into reactivity, again and again.

This is a thread I plan or returning to in subsequent posts, unless of course....

1 comment:

  1. I acknowledge the importance of being prepared. However, I think that indulgence in 'living in the future', in someplace or time that hasn't happened yet can enhance anxiety, even as you want to relieve it. It is something like this scenario planning that I, a high social anxiety person, do when it comes to imagining encounters with others.

    Reactivity, especially negative, is to be avoided, and I like the idea of being able to keep an even keel by envisioning multiple futures. I think the trick will be not to allow the anxiety to creep into your planning too much. I also assume that this scenario planning needs to be done by groups of people, which hopefully will be a source of wide perspective.