John Paul Lederach: We Need Moral Imagination to Respond to COVID-19.



This post is part of the Constructive Conflict Initiative / COVID-19 Blog


John Paul Lederach shared with us a video that he made recently as he gave a talk to the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe via Zoom because of the pandemic. 

In the first part of the video, he shares the key ideas from his 2005 book The Moral Imagination, (which is wonderful, by the way) but then he goes on to apply the key ideas of the book to the COVID-19 pandemic. As he explains in eloquent detail, the four key components of the "moral imagination" are: 1. the capacity to imagine ourselves in a web of relationships, one that includes even our enemies, 2. The ability to sustain a robust curiosity,  3. a commitment to the creative act, and 4. an acceptance of the risk that necessarily goes along with attempts to transcend violence (or in this case fear and division). 

The moral imagination requires the capacity to imagine ourselves in a web of relationships including, even, our enemies.

Again, the key idea is one of making choices of which "road" to follow--responding in an "us-versus-them," "me-first" way, or understanding that we are all in a "web of relationships" and need to respond together.  Also, he points out, we must remain curious about the situation we are in, which he refers to as a "great mystery," about which none of us knows the end. We will need creativity to deal with this mystery effectively, and we will have to take risks. There's no "safe way" out of this predicament we are in. 

Lederach illustrates how he captures beauty through Haiku in his 'Unfolding Poem' for the Moment We're In

Lederach continues his talk by explaining how he uses Haiku to help him make sense of this mystery--and other such profound challenges.  Haiku, he explains, forces one to pause and notice one's environment. "Noticing," he says, " is the first discipline of compassion. Without the capacity to pause enough to notice, compassion doesn't fully rise."

Haikus, Lederach also explains, build bridges between things that are often held separate. Writing haikus helps him look deeply into his inner self, and then connect that inner self with the outside world, particularly with nature and beauty.  After telling a parable about a young girl who jumped into a well to escape a tiger, only to find a dragon at the bottom of the well, Lederach ends with a moral:  "When you feel caught between a dragon and a tiger hanging by a thread or a branch, don't forget to pause, to notice--and take your daily dose of vitamin awe."  (Lederach's 'Unfolding Poem' for the Moment We're In is a growing set of Haikus written as he shelters in place in Arizona.)

We've had a mass movement of people, taking a small step to do something on behalf of others.

At the end, Lederach observes that lately we've had a mass movement of people ... going home.  "That's very unusual for a mass movement.  But now we've had a mass movement of people, taking a small step to do something on behalf of others."

I (Heidi Burgess) heard this as saying, we've had a mass movement of people taking a small step down the road of collaboration, of relationship, of helping others--again a road or "crossroads" metaphor.