The Necessity of Imagination

[© David Jakle/Getty Images]

As children, we spend long hours in worlds enriched by our imaginations. We gallop on wild horses, race rocket cars at death-defying speeds or devote our considered attention to the everyday activities of imaginary households, hosting princesses for tea and raising our own future children. With our childhood imaginations we build magnificent castles in the air. This is perhaps why in adulthood, imagination often acquires a ring of frivolousness, or becomes associated chiefly with artistic pursuits.

But even as we leave behind the wonder and endless possibility of childhood, imagination continues to shape and color our lives, though often now in more discreet and tempered ways. Our fears, our hopes, our joyful anticipations, all obtain their contours from this presumably uniquely human capacity.

What is imagination? The writer Alan White offers a useful definition of this elusive concept when he says that to imagine something is to think of it as possibly being so. It is unfortunate that we often lose or neglect that vital connection to the imagination that seems to bubble out of us so spontaneously in childhood, because this ability to envisage possibilities is a powerful tool. As the articles in this issue show, imagination is what propels the visionary leader; it is a force that guides the transformation of societies, it has the ability to carry us beyond our limitations and alter our lives.

"The power of imagination is also the power of empathy," notes SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. "It is the ability to imagine, the willingness to feel, the pain of others." The scale of our empathy--reaching out to those who may be different or distant from us--is, he suggests, the scale of our humanity. "A life of true fulfillment is one marked by the nonstop effort to expand and deepen one's humanity. Our capacity to feel the pain of others is perhaps the surest gauge of where we stand in that ongoing effort."

Imagination is, more than ever before, what our world requires of us today.