Donella Meadows: The Power of VisionFebruary 02, 2011 10:54AM
There don't seem to be many videos online of Donella Meadows, lead author of the controversial and influential 1972 book, Limits to Growth. This one is from a 1994 talk at the International Society for Ecological Economics conference. Thanks to the University of Vermont and its Gund Institute for Ecological Economics for posting it on Vimeo. Here is the UVM Continuing Education video collection.
I've removed ellipses from this partial transcription.
I first ran into the idea and the problem of “the vision thing” when I ran a series of workshops all around the world on ending hunger.
A colleague of mine, Peter Senge, who does a lot of vision work, particularly with industry, said, you should start each one of these workshops by asking the assembled experts, who have spent their lives trying to eliminate hunger: “What would the world look like if there were no hunger?”
I got solid resistance. I got a whole day of argument about why we should not do that. The workshop almost fell apart at that point.
Here were some of the things that were said:
It’s a waste of time. Let’s get down to what laws we need to pass and how we’re going to raise money. Let’s get on to doing.
Other people said: It’s bad enough to talk about the world with hunger. We don’t need any motivating force from a positive vision of a world without hunger.
I heard from my colleagues that visions are dangerous things, that visionaries are people to be viewed with deep suspicion.
I heard, as we got deeper, “I’ve never really looked at this. I’ve spent no time thinking about this.”
And finally, as we got to know each other better, people said: “I can’t stand the pain of looking at we really want, when I know about the condition the world is in. I can’t stand that tension.”
Finally, at the end, someone said, “I can’t share my vision with all of you, because I don’t know you well enough yet.”
I’ve learned since then how more to tap the part of me from which vision comes. It’s not the mind. It’s not the rational set of skills we have as human beings. You might call it heart or soul or some combination of the two.
I’ve learned some generalizations about this process for which I was so poorly trained.
One thing I’ve learned is that you are trying to articulate what you really want, not what you think you can get. What is a sustainable world that you would like to live in, that would satisfy your deepest dreams and longings?
Second, if you can get to that picture, you are under no obligation to tell us how to get there. My experience is, having now many times created a vision and then brought it, in some form, into being, is that I never know, at the beginning, how to get there. But as I articulate the vision and share it with people, the path reveals itself. And it would never reveal itself if I were not putting out the vision of what I really want and finding that other people really want it too.
As I said already, visions don’t come from a rational place, but visions do have to be honed by rationality. There does have to be a responsibility. Visions become responsible through all sorts of processes, and the best one that I know is sharing it with other people. The more a vision is shared, the more responsible it gets, and the more ethical it gets.
When I’m clear about a vision that I’m trying to bring forth, it informs my choices. It makes me see options that I wouldn’t have seen. And so, I am amazed at the practicality of visioning.