Willing Suspension of Disbelief

It was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

We are familiar with the concept of willing suspension of belief from poetry, fiction, theatre and cinema. It is at least as old as the ancient greek philosophers, but many know Coleridge’s phrasing, if not his ‘poetic faith’. We lean back in our chair and accept the illusion offered so as to enjoy the narrative. However, the same ‘poetic faith’ is what we need to disrupt and find again in any major change we want to make in our lives, our work or our society. We need to suspend the disbelief to go to work and to live anew creating a new narrative and supporting systems, engaging for all.

The Comfortable Illusion

There has been much discomfort to be faced in these last few weeks. Much that we look at in disbelief. However, the smartphone video and global connectivity has helped focus our attention on the cracks in the bubbles of our comfortable illusions. It has helped us to begin to see much that is ugly, unjust and unfair.

We don’t see these things normally because we willingly suspend our disbelief to enable us to live with the comfortable narrative that our system is mostly working. The system, flawed as it is and brutal as it can be, is working exactly as intended. The prejudice, the injustice, the unfairness aren’t flaws. They are our outcomes. Most of us can’t live looking directly at the system’s outcomes. The illusion fits the comfort of our privilege. We have a reassuring heroic occasionally cinematic vision of societal progress to admire, if we ignore the occasional cracks and inconsistencies.

This desire for comfort reaches its apogee when we’d rather hear a leader’s words lip-synched by a talented comedian than focus on the reality, when brand put out empty statements unsupported by action and when empty black squares drown out the messages of those they purport to support. Clicktavism reigns supreme. The next moment of comfort is only a infinite scroll away.

I know I have sought that escape in lightness, a chance to let art do the work I was resisting. Searching in art for a new and better illusion and an escape from slogging one foot in front of the other.

There is a crack in every thing God has made.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Perfectionists often position themselves on the sidelines, from which they point out that nothing is good enough

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

Creating the Illusion Anew

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Maya Angelou, Still I Rise

We need to find a new illusion that will restore our poetic faith and inspire us to improvement beyond our current systems and illusions. We need to suspend all the reasons to disbelieve and re-engage with the hope that can inspire others to join in making change. Hope that can give people something to plot, plan, strategise and mobilise towards.

The term “politics of prefiguration” has long been used to describe the idea that if you embody what you aspire to, you have already succeeded…This has been an important belief for activists who recognise that change happens as much by inspiration and catalyst as by imposition.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

This is not a quick fix. We won’t find this hope in our comfortable bubbles or in the work of thought leadership. Sadly this new hope seems absent from our current politics that is focused on leverage of tribalism. The hope that leads us forward is not lying around nearby to pick up or going to arrive miraculously in a later act. We will need to do the hard and uncertain work together to bring it forth.

I don’t have answers but I do have questions. What we can do is the work of discourse in civil society. We can work ourselves in discussion from the raw to the cooked creating new shared meaning as we do so. We can listen to new voices and look for new stories to celebrate and amplify. We can look for understanding beyond the bounds of our current context. We can listen to the irrational, the yearnings and the lightness for inspiration too.

Respect that is conditional on narrow practices can easily be withheld. It is different, qualitatively, from the respect that is given and received between people who believe in the inherent worth and integrity of other human beings.

Teo You Yenn, This Is What Inequality Looks Like

We can’t rely on tokens or a narrow suite of practices. We know from bitter experience that these cannot sustain our desire for a new illusion. They are too easily swept away. We need to base our new comforting beliefs on the inherent worth and integrity of other human beings. We can celebrate the rich creative potential in every person and our collective ability to leverage this human potential for mutual gain. Surely if nothing else that can bring forth a vision that can inspire us all to better things.

You can add up the parts; you won’t have the sum

You can strike up the march, there is no drum

Every heart, every heart to love will come

But like a refugee.

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

Uluru Statement from the Heart

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