This uncomfortable time will make us better, but I keep coming back to the role imagination can and should play, taking cues from our children

Story & photo by Sammi Johnson

Imagination fuels children. There’s my 2-year-old making do with available resources on a job site by caring for her actual sponge babies, putting them to bed and shushing them to sleep while kissing their sponge foreheads. Then there are the big kids engulfed in the schematics of Lego worlds and make-believe for hours. All of that is proof that imagination is the driving force behind their creativity and existence at this age.

But imagination is often lost in adults. When and where does the shift away from make-believe begin to meet its end?

This past spring into summer has been defined by an overwhelming frequency of difficult decisions and conversations while navigating adjustments in daily life and embedded beliefs. We found ourselves schooling from home, gripped by coronavirus news, and questioning our professions, income, travel and daily existence, which was shifting into something unrecognizable. Not just here, but everywhere. All over the globe, life was upended by a single pandemic, which then segued into protests and social movements. Our basic understanding of what we once believed was getting rocked.

This uncomfortable time will make us better, but I keep coming back to the role imagination can and should play, taking cues from our children. Their habit of losing themselves in make-believe wonders, spending hours in other worlds and stretching their thoughts into joy is beautiful act of humanity that I wish more of us adults still could conjure. After all, making a better world requires first imagining it. The empathy to feel, learn, act and vote on behalf of something not apparent in our daily lives matters is dependent upon our ability to imagine.

It’s imagination that prompts city-dwellers to support open, clean space from afar — because they strive to envision its value outside of their immediate surrounding world.

It’s imagination that motivates individuals to set aside financing for future generations or endowments or scholarships, because investing in our future is always a good idea.

It’s imagination that can propel us to expand our capacity to learn about and appreciate our globe’s inhabitants, even ones we’ll never meet or see, because global appreciation of our connectedness is vital.

That basic imagination leads to empathy that empowers us to act for those who can’t. We can instill this into our young ones. We owe it to them to imagine and then understand what they can’t see. It’s our job to teach them to believe in the greater good and the harrowing facts, outside of what they may see day to day. We choose to live here for many reasons, but it’s our responsibility to act as global citizens. That doesn’t come naturally and needs to be taught through leading by example and talking about difficult, often uncomfortable things, and learned by listening and examining our own biases and embedded beliefs.

Just because we can’t see it or feel it doesn’t mean it’s not real. It sounds simple when said or written, but we all need to do some work on putting it into action. And the imagination that is so rampant as a child needs to be fostered as adults. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine what it’s like when they do something, anything. If we can’t displace ourselves from our own myopic version of our current reality, empathy and learning run into roadblocks of resistance.

Anything that is uncomfortable, hard to imagine or outside the bounds of our current reality is often is met with confusion, resistance and anger. But we can imagine and then achieve clean air, equal footing, healthy communities and protected spaces and so much more.

Now it’s time for my 2-year-old to put her three sponge babies to bed.

Sammi is a mother, wife and businesswoman. Contact her at sammi@sambrownco.com.