(This week, I am in Uganda, and because of this, I am typing from my iPhone. I pray for your forgiveness of the numerous errors!)
I have had a lot of time for introspective reflection. We were on three airplanes for a total of 22 hours, and it gave me an opportunity to let my mind wander. Based on Charles Taylor’s Modern Social Imaginaries, the following are a thread of my thoughts:
Taylor wrote, “By social imaginary, I mean something much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode. I am thinking, rather, of the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations.” (Taylor, 23)
The more I thought on this the more I wondered if we imagine what relationships are like before we have met, and essentially that imagination causes the thoughts to come a reality? Is this true?
I thought of one of the pastors of my church. He exemplifies this thinking of social imaginary. He “knows” a potential employee because of a resume or snapshot interview. Based on this snapshot, he continues to hold the person in that one light for the remainder of the time he knows or works with them. In essence, he puts people in a box, based on what he sees or imagines. This is especially prevalent in gender roles, though it can also be seen with income or ethnicity. Instead of seeing the full person, or the potential for who that person could be and facilitating the growth, he instead chooses to keep them in the original box where he found them. This has the potential to cause great issue, as anytime this person would like to grow, become more educated, or pursue a dream, he instead encourages the person to stay where they are in their box, because that is where he first imagined their relationship and hierarchy.
As a person in charge of leadership and ministry, how do you develop leaders if you continually treat them as followers? How will that person ever have the confidence to step out and grow? What effect do we have, as leaders, to stunt the growth of those around us if we only see them and play out our relationship as how we imagine it?
This led me to another quandary of thought. Are we all working with our social imaginaries or against them? As Christians, should we constantly strive to work against our imaginaries? As Christians, we are taught to work against our “it’s all about me” inherent nature and challenged to reach out, love others and serve. We are called to do things in service because of who others are, not because of who we are. A different type of social imaginaries applies to who we think we are in society, but as Christians we are called to not think about ourselves but instead how we can build others up in life.
Plato and Locke, while amazing in their thinking and logic, may have missed the point. Locke was a proponent of self-preservation and Plato emphasized safety and the rule of government. But God made us and when we totally trust Him, we do not work out of self-preservation. Instead we are called to work out of service and kindness to others and that itself makes us different than who we are imagined to be.
Often I play out a conversation before it actually occurs. I imagine how that conversation plays out and how I will carry it out. I imagine how I can build myself up to a person or at times I imagine how small I am and how I do not deserve the time in front of the other. Could I negate the problem if I thought more about how God sees me and how I could serve the other person, rather than become caught up in my own ego or insecurity?
And these, friends, are merely a sampling of thoughts this week as I am in Uganda, where I am striving to imagine myself in the shoes of others, learn from others and listen to their stories. I imagine it will continue to be a fruitful week, full of blessings.
Taylor, Charles. Modern Social Imaginaries. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.