Imagination steers us to the stars . . . or not

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As a nation, we suffer from a failure of imagination when it comes to fighting terrorism. We react, and protect ourselves from a repeat of the last attacks rather than actively imagining what could come next. While we get frisked and radiated at the airport, while we take off our shoes and spill out our water bottles, while we put blockades up around the White House and post guards at museums, why don’t we realize that the bad guys are plotting something we haven’t imagined yet? I hope our CIA employs people just to think about the “what-ifs.” We paid a big price for the fact that before 9/11, despite the hints and warnings, no one in our government imagined that hijackers could commandeer American planes and fly them into our iconic buildings.

Imagination is something we either have or don’t have. A friend of mine has suffered a horrendous series of health crises. But he never gets anxious, because he has no imagination. In his case, lack of imagination is a good thing.

More often, imagination feeds the soul. When we dream what it would be like to watch a sunset in the Kalahari or imagine ourselves landing a job we’ve coveted, we’re one step closer to making it happen. For many, a goal is imagined well before it is fulfilled.

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has fired up imaginations around the world. The hypotheses proliferate, from CNN to Al Jazeera, from theories of alien abduction to fears of nefarious terrorists who plan to pluck airplanes out of the sky at will. Believe me, the high-priced imaginations at work in Hollywood are already writing the scripts about Flight 370. I think the flight went down and its passengers perished in a catastrophic accident.

But I also imagine how all the money for all the search planes and equipment sent to the Indian Ocean might have been spent to feed the hungry or cure disease. And I can imagine that when China, Australia, America and Malaysia come together to search for a missing plane, they might also come together to fight poverty.
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