“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
In theater, an audience is explicitly asked to suspend their disbelief. Rather than acknowledge that everything they see is false, misleading, and unreal (which it is), they willingly suspend what is true to find something even more true. The suspension of disbelief allows the audience’s imagination to become active and to perform its role as interpreter, bridging the divide between the world of everyday life, and the particular world of the story being told. That’s quite a role given to imagination. It is also a demonstration of personal mastery.
Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline, builds the discipline of Shared Vision around the personal mastery of holding “creative tension.” Creative tension looks at ‘what is’ and then asks the question, ‘what is desired?’ The difference between the two is the creative tension required to bring a vision into the world. It is a form of personal mastery since it requires the willing suspension of disbelief – by standing in favor of something even more true than the current reality; something which is not even there. The tunnel vision of the status quo conflicts with our imagination. We have a hard time staying with the vision, staying with the image of what we really want to see become present in the world.
But the really hardest part of this journey is accepting the reversal: we often make “what we want” into something that we try to run away from. Why is that?
Trust and engagement cannot be yoked to just any animal. It is a uniquely human yoke, born of freedom and choice. We make ourselves into an image, to direct our energies toward an image, we have to feel complete in that image. It is the sense of completion that we look for — not that we are ever fully “complete”– but rather, what we want is a relation to something larger than ourselves but without ever feeling small. That sense of completion is larger than us. We often feel small as we move towards it. So it takes a special kind of mastery, a special kind of belief that the something even more true here – is our ability to trust and engage. And that requires a suspension of disbelief – a mastery of ourselves, a kind of adaptive transformation.