Hon, if you are teaching people how to visualize a future, you are doing them a tremendous service. I've recently started to notice how incredibly bad people are at doing this. They always assume the future is an extension of what they are used to, and their plans for the future are 'continue what we do'.
For a while last month, I was going to the state's Water Plan meetings. I went to thirty short meetings in a few weeks, with very literally the top experts in thirty different aspects of managing water. These experts were supposed to tell us what we need to do between now and 2050. They were supposed to make recommendations, and it is not farfetched to think that these recommendations would be used as a basis for legislation. I could not believe how few of them could imagine and make plans for the future. I was appalled, and by the third or fourth meeting, started openly scolding them. This was great, because we run in small professional circles in a pretty small city, and I just know they're hoping to work with me again.
But I could not believe how limited their views are. Most pictured the present and made timid little requests. "I, um, guess that we might need to build some new canals to handle another twenty-five million people, so, if you don't mind, maybe we could encourage the department to consider doing some modeling of the problem." Are you fucking kidding me? This is the state plan that is supposed guide us for the next forty years and you would recommend considering new data? Picture the year 2050, picture less water and crazy weather, picture doubling the state population, and demand your fucking canals. If your vision of the future includes water coming out when you open the faucet, figure out how that happens and tell us what we need to do. But they couldn't. They had no concept of the future, no vision of that world, and therefore they weren't working backward from anything. They were proposing temporary patches for whatever their current problems were. It was astonishing*.
Then! My other rant! Is sorta related, but not really, but the segue is astonishing things that people cannot do. We give out grant money; people send us grant applications. They're applying for a few hundred thousand dollars, and very few of them can tell us what their project does. In three or four pages of describing the project, they never answer the question: what will you do if we give you the money. The conversation goes like this:
Us: What will you do if we give you $300K?
Them: The headwaters of our beautiful creek start in beautiful mountains, in grasslands that swish under majestic oaks.
Us: That's nice. What will you do if we give you $300K?
Them: Ecology is absolutely vital to human survival and besides, we love the creek with all our hearts.
Us: This is your last chance. What will you DO if we give you $300K?
Them: I truly believe the neighbors are ready to come together on this. There was a lot of hostility to the idea before, but now people realize that the children are our future and we want them to be able to go fishing in our creek when they have their own children.
Seriously. We reject easily half the applicants we get because after reading pages of their application, we cannot tell what they will do. Sometimes you can find the answer in a throwaway paragraph. Oh. They'll fence off half a mile of the creek from cattle. I can't tell if people do not know themselves what their project is (in which case, it is not ready to be funded) or if they cannot follow the fucking directions**. But if you can help the kids who come see you answer the question, whatever it is, you will have given them a skill that most people evidently don't have.
Then, my confession. Because the truth is, I have no almost no vision of my own future. I think this is in keeping with my tendency to never retrospect, and avoid introspecting. I mostly am not interested in me. I am interested in other people and things and places. But yeah. My clearest idea about my future is exactly what I slam in those experts. Unimaginative status quo, with current problems patched. I'd like more of the same, only with a family. What type? Where? What career? What ambitions? I never think like that. I just don't. Sometimes I anticipate a fun trip a few months out. Sometimes I imagine building an outdoor shower. But that's as far out as my future extends. A detailed picture, a vision, something to let me know what I should do now to put that in place? I never do that. I have to wonder if my life hasn't stood still for the last decade because I don't contemplate anything to move towards.
*It was also kinda sad. I mean, the state water plan used to say things like "We will bore through mountains, move rivers hundreds of miles and ride tigers everywhere we go. KNEEL when the engineers stride like gods among you." That didn't turn out to be a good plan, but I think I like it better than meek hopes for additional data, if it isn't expensive or anything.
**There is strong evidence that they cannot follow the fucking directions. If you send the hard copies in some ornate form that is not like the fairly non-ornate format we request, WE WILL NOTICE. This doesn't get you dq'ed, but it does make us question whether we will enjoy a three-year working relationship with you. (We ask for no cover sheet or staples, so we can put the application directly in binders. This is very hard for people, who have a deep need to put applications in folders that we immediately throw out, cursing them for costing us a minute or two of handling time and wasting pretty paper.)