Compelling, grounded narratives and examples that intensify and guide longing in the space between what is and what could be energize action. So make healthy role models, powerful conversations, inspiring initiatives and innovations broadly visible and engaging to help people live into them in their own lives and take them to scale in the real world.
Related: 24 Exuberance, 36 Microcosms, 43 Possibility Thinking, 54 Self-Organization, 57 Story Sharing, 64 Using Diversity and Disturbance Creatively, 66 Well-Utilized Life Energy
Going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
Visionary attractors are compelling, grounded narratives and examples that intensify longing in the space between what is and what could be and thus energize action. Role models, powerful conversations, inspiring initiatives and innovations – if presented well – can help people live into them in their own lives and take them to scale in the real world.
This pattern was actually inspired by Maclean’s magazine, which is a big enough example that I’ll talk about it in my description here. They got a group of a dozen Canadian citizens together in 1991 and had them facilitated by Roger Fisher (co-author of the classic Getting to Yes) and his team from Harvard. The task was to come up with a shared vision for Canada and these people had been chosen for their amazing differences. They were all different and represented different kinds of perspectives, energies and demographics in Canada.
So this was an exhibition – covered by both magazine and TV – of a conversation between people who were really different from each other and it showed that they could actually work together. The participants had to go through a lot of struggles in order to do that, but over two-and-half days they did it. Part of what made it so compelling was that the magazine coverage described the individual participants and why they had been chosen in some detail right at the start. So the people who were reading the magazine or watching the TV show had a chance to identify with some of these people, and think “These are people that I like and these are people that are unlike me, and who I dislike a lot.”
So readers and viewers were pulled into the story of what happened. They were drawn into the conversational details which were provided by the coverage, vicariously experiencing the day-by-day, hour-by-hour struggles and breakthroughs that unfolded. So this was a way of magnifying the impact of what happened by inviting millions of people into a different way of having a conversation. Most of the people who were watching or reading this probably never dreamed it was possible for such diverse people to actually work together and create a visionary document together. But they saw it happen before their own eyes.
I call this pattern Visionary Attractors because it draws people in to some possibility. A visionary attractor is a kind of thing that we want to have happen that is presented in a way that draws people into trying to have more of it and to do more of it.
A familiar example is people who are role models. For example, in the United States we suddenly had a black president. Black people who never dreamed they could ever be president suddenly started thinking, “Wow, I could be president!” There are people who started to get involved in politics because there was a black president.
In the face of all the inadequacies we see in ourselves and our society, we imagine what life could be like if we actually could handle all those problems and get to a better place. Often there’s this longing that grows in people, but that feeling gets overridden by what they see around them, such that they think “There’s no way we’ll ever have a black president!” or “There’s no way to get the Québec people and the strong Canadian constitutionalists to actually talk together and come up with something!”
Then you prove that it’s possible and suddenly people get drawn into that possibility. This can also be accomplished with imagination or an imaginary story. There are examples of utopian novels like Walden Two about which people actually said, “Hey, let’s try and do this!” Earth First! is a radical environmental group whose founding was influenced by people who just started doing the things that were described in a novel called The Monkeywrench Gang. It said “here are the things you do, here’s why, and here’s how” – all in the context of a compelling story.
Visionary attractors are important for wise democracy in a number of ways. One is their role in helping us get there, to get these wise democracy modes and methods known and presented in ways that people want them the way the Maclean’s magazine did. Another is to imaginatively clarify how wise democracy could operate.
For example, there are an awful lot of microcosm activities going on where people are investing informational, facilitation or random selection resources into groups who are paying particular close attention to working on a given issue. You can generate a level of collective wisdom in such a group but then there’s the issue of the relationship between that group and the larger society. The question is how does the larger society participate in, pick up and absorb, work with and digest the wisdom that comes out of such a microcosm. We need visionary attractors – both real and imaginary – to help us think about that.
I can imagine if and when visionary attractors are formally embedded into various democratic systems, they can be evocative and can draw people in to explore and learn about the details of a particular situation or public issue. This is different from and not necessarily propagandizing to the public as in the example of soap operas where a particular approach gets promoted into the population using a compelling story. A wise democracy visionary attractor could present multiple viewpoints to help people learn and gain inspiration to get involved and bring actions and solutions into their lives and communities.