Ideas escape from brain of pensive african man

~ Jone Johnson Lewis, Leader

As the New Year begins, how can we use our imaginations to help create a world that is more livable, loving, just, and peaceful?

Last month, some of our community gatherings looked at the “neutral zone” between old and new.  The pandemic has most of us in a kind of neutral zone between what seemed normal and what the world will be after we emerge safely.

Most of us didn’t learn much about the 1918 influenza pandemic in history classes.  Yet it had a major influence on world history, just as the previous wave of mass worldwide death, the Black Plague, had done before that.

The 1918 pandemic changed how many nations looked at public health.  Before that pandemic, many blamed individual behaviors for catching a disease. One response was to establish high-level government departments that paid attention to public health, especially in reporting and evaluating data, finally seeing disease as a common threat to all. In the 1920s much of Western Europe followed Russia’s post-pandemic example and established some kind of public healthcare system, a kind of state-run insurance.  The United States remained committed to a system where health care coverage was linked to employment.

Listen to Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts. / Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts. / Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me. / Anything can happen, child, Anything can be. ~ Shel Silverstein
Another big change was that after the enormous hardships, physically and financially, created by the 1918 epidemic, people emerged with a sense of optimism.  The following decade saw women gaining the right to vote, and more freedom and joy for individuals as expressed in the music and entertainment fields.  The Harlem Renaissance bloomed.  It seemed a time for change.

So what will we do with this pandemic? Imagination is key. What might we learn, personally, socially, culturally, from this time?

It is discouraging to see the rise in violence and belief in absurd conspiracy theories during this time.  Consider: these are last gasps of desperation from those who know that their more exclusive, hierarchical ways of organizing power and privilege are at an end.  Instead of just being fearful of that reaction, imagine what will fill the gap created by the collapse of a hierarchy where white, straight, Christian men have been able to believe they are superior and are right to have more power and privilege.

When I get discouraged by seeing some of what I see as negative, regressive demands to return to a way of life that was never really great for most people, I also think of how many are rejecting that.  Sure, more than half of white people do not recognize that racism against people of color is a significant problem — but that is fewer than failed to recognize that, 25 years ago.

Thinking more locally, we’ve had more connections in some ways during this time with other communities in our corner of the world, the north Bronx and Yonkers.  Imagine ways we might become even more connected, when we are able to be in person.

And for our own Ethical Society, imagine how we might be different as we later emerge from this kind of a cocoon we’re in right now.  One more obvious possibility is to use technology better to integrate those who cannot be in the room with us into our Sunday meetings.  And it’s obvious now that we could have guest speakers “visit” virtually — maybe on a big screen when most of us are in the meeting room at our building.

But beyond that?  One Ethical Society is, for instance, considering whether the conventional start time really serves the future growth of their Society.  We’ve been able to get to know others from other Societies — how might we continue those connections?  When we meet again is a good time to try out some new ways — and now is the time to begin to imagine what those might be.

Image credit – By Prostock-studio

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