What If

Jonathan Askin, Professor at Brooklyn Law, characterizes the people of Occupy Wall Street as a 21st Century reincarnation of the What If Generation of the 1960’s Vietnam Protesters.  As Askin noted, instead of asking, “what if there was a war and nobody came” today’s protesters are asking such questions as “what if we had bailed out the homeowners.”


A ‘what if question’ is the key to unlocking and opening one’s mind to other possibilities.  So those participating in Occupy Wall Street are calling for new thinking that will lead to a better future for all, and not just a select few.


There are people who benefit from the way things are, so ideas that require change will always have resistors.  Consequently there are those who can’t think anew, who can’t or won’t entertain the possibilities of what thinking anew might bring.  Why?  Likely they can’t bear the thought of giving up what they gain from the way things are, even if the new idea will benefit everyone in the long run.  So they pursue thoughts of why we can’t change what is, thus diminishing the likelihood of things changing.  Further, those who are really consumed by fear disparage and demonize those calling for change in an effort gain support for their resistance.


This is often experienced in organizations.  Many never even recognize the need to change because those in authority become so attached to the idea of what they’ve been that they can’t think (imagine) about being anything else.  For example Kodak, the leader in film photograph, could not think anew so now it is an icon of an outdated idea, film photography.


Invariably, what if questions challenge assumptions and beliefs underlying the generally accepted reality of the way things are.  But reality is not something out there, it has its beginning in the mind of people.  If this were not the case then the United States would not have emerged and organizations that seem inextricably part of life in our society would not exist.  That is, reality is not something we merely react to it is something that we actually participate in creating and sustaining.  Simply put, reality requires our cooperation!


For example, our elected officials require people to elect them: why else would big business and other special interest groups invest so much in a candidate in the election process?  In effect we don’t choose whom we would like as our elected officials, our choices are restricted to whom the money backers want.  We can’t expect those who control and benefit from what is to change what is.  Evidence of this is seen in the inability of politicians to even limit contributions to political campaigns. Just think: What if there was an election and nobody showed up to elect them?


What’s the implication?  If you don’t like the reality you have then cease your cooperation with the system that it rests upon!  If you don’t like the reality of your experiences then act according to new beliefs that will provide different experiences.


As discussed in a previous article, if we want a different reality then we must actually enact it. Reality won’t change if first we don’t change our thinking about our selves! Wanting change is not sufficient; we must change our mind—changing the ideas and beliefs we hold—in order to embody the change (in reality) we desire.


At base the intent of a protest is to communicate the need to change what is by raising the awareness of the need and building a critical mass of people for the change. As long as people do not challenge what is assumed unchangeable then what is will remain as it is.  In short, our past will be our future! Why should anyone or any group be given the power to require this to be so?  So there must always be what if’s and we must seriously engage with those who raise them!


What if our system of government was a democracy and not a plutocracy? What if we’ve been structuring society and (our) life according to a fallacy?  What if we aren’t as materially driven as the system of economics has led us to believe and live? What if maximizing your material self-interest was not the way to joy in life?  What if your job was a joy?  What if flow of money throughout society meant something other than trickledown from the wealthy elite?   What if the way things are didn’t have to be as they are?  What if those in authority didn’t recoil against challenging ideas?  What if we all were critical thinkers?  What if you actually gave serious focused attention to these questions?

One thought on “What If

  1. Pingback: Reflection #3 on Occupy Wall Street « For Progress, Not Growth

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