“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” Proverbs 29:18
There is lack of cohesion in any society where there is no common vision to hold it on its course.
If we embrace the idea of incrementalism as normative, even essential as a mechanism of change, we must also be aware of its most significant weakness – the difficulty of maintaining direction toward an intended destination when the only visible change appears, by itself, to be insignificant.
It is easy to lose steam, easy to lose hope that the small changes will ever accumulate to the point of establishing a new way of thinking and acting in the culture. If energy is not maintained, change will become less directional, more random, less productive or even destructive, and the individual will see himself as a small boat adrift on the ever fluctuating sea of public sentiment rather than as part of an armada on a grand voyage.
Those wishing to foster significant transformative change, or even wishing in some cases to simply maintain a given state, must be ever mindful of the overarching purpose of their common vision and must work to nurture it and broaden its embrace within the culture. This requires, as mentioned in an earlier article, the development of a significant level of consensus, and it requires a core of adherents committed to marshaling its best efforts toward promoting the cause.
This vision must of necessity be long-term. Each participant must see his or her role as a significant part of something greater than himself or herself. The people that are part of the movement must come to embrace the vision and the true significance of their respective parts at a level sufficient to maintain engagement, with a determination to see the mission through to the realization of the vision. Some transformation requires a commitment of weeks, some of years, some of multiple generations.
Like the building of the great cathedrals of Europe,there must be the designers who can visualize the end product and put it on paper so others can implement the plan. Then there must be the builders who will take the plan and oversee the work. There must be those who see the goal and are able and willing to fund the project. Then there must be the artisans and tradesmen, some of whom will give their entire lives in pursuit of only a portion of the task while training their children to continue after them.
The Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris took 182 years to build (1163 – 1345). Cologne took 632 years (1248 – 1880) with interruptions from wars. These great edifices are wonderful examples of the process of bringing a dream into reality through incremental steps.
What are the keys to maintaining long term vision?
Vision must be rooted in a system outside the movement. The adherents must be adequately anchored to a vision with sufficient force to capture their minds and their imaginations, and to move them to take action.
There must be a visionary, or visionaries, to inspire the believers and others, in order to have a successful long-term transformational process that moves in a desired direction. The greater the vision, the larger the visionary figure must be. The world’s great religions are obvious examples of this. Political and social revolutionaries also provide examples, as do leaders on the battlefield, leaders in the board room, and leaders in the local Little League. No matter the magnitude of the vision, the leaders must be people of vision who are able to communicate that vision to others in such a way as to gain buy-in from them so that they too become bearers of the vision.
The people who join the cause look to the visionaries. The visionaries look beyond themselves to their own source of inspiration, and the best of them point their cohorts to that source as well. They point to history, to some idea, or philosophy, to some historical figure, or even to divine inspiration.
There must be a sense of destiny – a sense of eventuality. There has to be a belief that the goals are attainable, that they will eventually emerge as reality if the adherents don’t give up. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9). This principle must be in the gut of the adherents to the cause.
There must be a community that embraces the envisioned destiny. Mankind is a social being, and lasting change is always affected and maintained by groups, not merely by individuals. The initial verse above implies this when it places vision in a corporate setting. Where there is no vision “the people” perish, not just the individual person, but the people, the group. We are strengthened when we participate in something bigger than ourselves. While it’s true that one person can spend his or her life on the street corner with a sandwich board and a megaphone, that person is very rare, in many cases not of the soundest mind, and in any case likely of little impact. But a group with a common commitment to a cause can motivate hundreds, even thousands, of people to engage in ways that demonstrate the presence of an emerging consciousness, and in time have a real and significant impact upon society.
Isolationism yields non-productivity. Anyone who wishes to have an impact upon society must engage the society. I love to be alone. I’m not so much that way anymore but there was a time when I dreamed of living in the forest, of “getting back to the land” – just me and my family. As Joanie Mitchell put it in her ballad Woodstock, “… we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” This yearning is not uncommon. Many people dream of returning to some idyllic vision of the past, the rural life, the Garden of Eden, back to the life of the supposed noble savage, and view this as life’s goal. Interestingly though, biblically speaking, the goal is quite the opposite. God began with one man in a garden. His next act was to create a companion and the first social unit, the family. He gave this family a commission to tend the earth in which they had been placed and to fill the earth with co-laborers. (Genesis 1:26-28). Among the nations that resulted, he brought forth a people in the Nation of Israel to exhibit his will for mankind living in community. In The Revelation, the redeemed people end up together in a city. In contrast, the lost end up in eternal isolation. Could it be that redeemed city life is the goal of God for humanity rather than a bunch of individual remote cabins along the banks of the crystal river?
I have such a vision and it directs my life. It is called The Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness…” And he taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”
The prophet Daniel told us that God would establish a kingdom that would become the preeminent kingdom of all the kingdoms of the earth. (Daniel 2:31-47). It would begin as a tiny stone and end up as a great mountain, filling the whole earth. Jesus informed us that this kingdom was first a spiritual kingdom, but the apostles said that it would affect earthly natural kingdoms. (Acts 3:19-21, 1 Corinthians 15:24-26, Revelation 11:15, Revelation 22:2). Indeed, as in Daniel’s prophecy, the little stone would strike a certain kingdom in the feet and destroy it. This occurred when the community of Jesus followers emerged as a greater influence in the culture than the mighty Roman Empire, which they then watched break into many pieces and fade away. And there is more to come, for the little stone must become a great mountain and fill the whole earth. (For any who would be concerned at this point, I am not talking about the church as a political power. Neither am I speaking of the emergence of a Utopian society, but that is for another time.)
Whatever you may think Daniel’s prophecy means and in whatever forms it may eventually manifest, the end of the prophecy is as certain as that first phase and it shall fully come to pass. The prophet Habakkuk said, “The knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14).
Now, that is long-term vision. It is a great vision that is brought into reality by many small incremental processes until the vision is fulfilled. It has and will suffer setbacks, diversions, and corruptions along the way. But like any flowing stream on its way to its destiny, the sea, as long as it can keep flowing, it can correct its course, cleanse its waters, and present itself pure and clear at the end of its journey. And like the river, because we too have an ending place, if we are unflagging in the pursuit of the goal, we will eventually fulfill our purpose and arrive at our destiny.
What is true in the greater scheme of things is true in all its smaller parts and in all our worthy engagements along the way. Let us find God’s vision for our lives and pursue it unrelentingly until we arrive at our end, which is at least in part, the presentation of the Kingdom of God in the earth to him who called us to pursue it.
(Our next and final article in this series on incrementalism will address how to measure the opportunity when the prospect of cataclysmic change presents itself.)
To read the entire series on Incrementalism click on titles below:
- Article 1 – Incrementalism as an Effective Instrument of Social and Political Change
- Article 2 – Incrementalism as a Tactic – Was Moses an Incrementalist?
- Article 3 – Core Social Consensus Essential for Sustainable Systemic Transformation
- Article 4 – Incremental Dialectical Process as Progress
- Article 5 – Maintaining Vision – A Necessity for Successful Transformation