I really like this cartoon from Zen Pencils based on a quote from Helen Keller. I think we often are focussed on the things that are ending rather than what could be beginning. There are many people who face the end of their current job due to the economic times we are living in, and for many of us the work that we do is our defining characteristic. Some people in this situation have an ability to pick themselves up and re-focus their efforts into other avenues. Others, like the man in the cartoon, ignore all the opportunities around them and close their eyes to what could be possible because they are unable to conceive of new futures for them, they literally can’t see them. Hope theory would say that people with high hope are able to re-goal and move on to other things and this is one reason why I use it in my work. It is an explanatory framework for why some people take a closed door as a challenge to move into new areas, while others stop and bemoan what has passed. This isn’t to say that those who move on don’t mourn the change – Kubler-Ross’ grief model is another useful explanatory framework.
So what has this got to do with the future? One of the things that can happen when doing foresight work with a group is that people can see closing doors in the future. Being represented is one requirement of becoming engaged in an image of the future – Can I see myself in that future? Do the things I value appear in that future? Many rejections of futures images are a reaction to not being represented. People can’t believe in the image because they do not align to it. Futures images, at their core, are representations of our aspirational values. It might be that the future direction doesn’t suit their values, or they are getting to the end of their career, or they may be feeling like the future being created just doesn’t include them. The reactions to this type of activity can range from disengagement to more active forms of undermining. When a person is resisting a future it is always a good idea to check in with them, sometimes best done in a light-hearted way, whether they are represented in that future.
When creating images of the future with groups, we use a negotiation process to give people the opportunity to discuss their inclusion in the image. Mostly this occurs as a discussion of ideas – I think we should be doing X in the future… these ideas represent the values that have to be brought into the future. Interestingly, groups can develop images of the future that completely ignore the needs and wants of their stakeholders, even if this is not the intention. Thus, the process of creating images is one which benefits from the inclusion of representatives from as much of the system as possible.
I start from the assumption that we can create our futures based on the choices we make in the present. Often these choices are made in response to closing doors rather than having the ability to choose exactly where we go. The ability to see a closing door as an opportunity rather than a challenge is one we will need to develop across our societies in coming years, as many doors which have previously been open to us based on our profligate use of fossil fuels will close and we will have to re-focus and change what we do. Making sure we pause at each opportunity to evaluate the future it might create rather than finding ourselves on the park bench with our head in our hands is a lovely metaphor for the behaviours that we will need to nurture.