Vision is not mere fantasy devoid of pragmatic realism but an expression of our core values linked to universal experiences. For a nation that used to pride itself on a universal concept of E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one), we have politically divided and compartmentalized ourselves in the “Pluribus,” but have precious little “Unum” to show the world as the American political process continues to grind away defined by fractured relations and contentious posturing. Our “better angels” have obviously not alighted on this planet to guide our actions to date.
Both sides of the political spectrum confuse the “map with the territory” a concept first proposed by philosopher Alfred Korzybski and expanded upon by anthropologist Gregory Bateson. In essence, people confuse their own personal maps of the world with the territory the map represents by the conviction that their view is the one and only “truth”. As a result, we engage in never ending arguments over whose version of the truth is the correct view of reality. When gazing through a universal lens, multiple realities exist which necessitates a collaborative response for effective governing so that each reality is honored at a given level of consciousness, while moving toward wholeness and understanding. Creating a national vision where multiple realities from diverse perspectives are organized into a coherent unified force to solve our complex domestic and global problems has clearly been lacking in the current political climate.
Furthermore, the capacity of our leaders to reach a high level of comfort with ambivalence—holding opposing extremes of conviction at one time—would result in executive and legislative actions that would begin to reflect the cohesive rendering of E Pluribus Unum from which our nation has evolved. A more collective rather than purely individualistic stance is not an anomaly in our history. Our founders faced a crisis during the American Revolution which galvanized a search for principles upon which they could build a unified nation culminating in the adoption of the Constitution. Edmund Morgan writes in his book, The Birth of the Republic, that prior to the American Revolution, “colonists were reputed to be a quarrelsome, litigious, divisive lot and historical evidence bears out this reputation.” However, through inspired leadership they were able to come together in common purpose to address injustices inherent within the organization and functioning of the British governing institutions that controlled the colony at the time. This collective action ultimately resulted in independence and the rule of law sacred to our Constitution. A transformative American vision of E Pluribus Unum evolved out of this crisis and set a historical precedent that speaks to the American sense of fairness and necessity to act collectively on democratic principles to preserve individual liberties.
Clearly, we need to undergo a national re-imagining of ourselves. 9/11 was the chance to do just that and could have provided us with a bolder more authentic vision of ourselves grounded in our historic strengths and realities yet connected to enduring universal themes of abundance, unity, and infinity, in which nothing is static except universal truths expressing spiritual realities. Ken Burns in his commencement address at Stanford University (http://news.stanford.edu/2016/06/12/prepared-text-2016-stanford-commencement-address-ken-burns/) spoke to the need to see history as a non-static source of vision for our nation. “Over those decades of historical documentary filmmaking, I have also come to the realization that history is not a fixed thing, a collection of precise dates, facts, and events that add up to a quantifiable, certain, confidently known truth.” History is a mysterious and malleable thing, constantly changing, not just as new information emerges, but as our own interests, emotions and inclinations change. Each generation rediscovers and re-examines that part of its past that gives its present new meaning, new possibility and new power. The question becomes for us now – for you especially – what will we choose as our inspiration? Which distant events and long dead figures will provide us with the greatest help, the most coherent context and the wisdom to go forward?”
The saying goes: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Americans are ready for a renewal of the American vision. Many Americans are tired and “living rough” in day to day existence with no obvious purpose and meaning in sight. Visionary thinkers and authors are in a unique position to point the way toward transcendence, but it is incumbent upon us to walk this inner journey and share our experience with others. In his final years, Joseph Campbell saw the need for a new mythology that was based on a universal rendering of a transcendent hero found in all world mythologies instead of misconstrued localized metaphors “misread prosaically as referring to tangible facts.” This transcendent hero goes forth on an individual, yet also a collective journey of growth and self-actualization returning to his community to share and embody wisdom gained from experience. This archetype points towards a consensual reality based on shared experience that could be articulated by our leaders in a manner that resonates with a majority of Americans. Indeed, Campbell’s lectures on this very subject enthralled American audiences wherever he spoke.
Perhaps the rediscovery and embodiment of an ancient universal archetype such as the transcendental hero will serve us better —one composed of more depth and clarity of purpose through the embodiment of meaning referenced by people of many diverse backgrounds, and one which acts as a metaphor for a collective journey towards the wisdom and maturation of the American consciousness—rather than the incessant replay of shallow repetitious stereotypes from the past.
Marian A. Lee is a hospice chaplain and holds a BA in Political Science from George Washington University. She has a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of South Florida and has completed two years towards a doctorate degree in political science. She is revamping her fictional visionary book, The Lioness of Brumley Hall, to bring in a stronger narrative based on the precepts of magical realism, as well as, a children’s magical adventure series imbued with subtle political irony.
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