Student Perspective

Expanding Your Imagination

by Benjamin Skye | September 6, 2011 | Student Perspective 1 Comment

imagine

[ih-maj-in]

verb (used with object)
1. to form a mental image of (something not actually presentto the senses).
Or…
verb (used without object)
6. to form mental images of things not present to the senses;use the imagination.

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Imagination

In my final semester as an undergraduate, I took an ethics course through the Logsdon School of Theology at Hardin-Simmons University. In that course, our professor highlighted the role of “imagination” in ethical (right/moral) living. When I first noticed the subject matter of “imagination” in my course schedule, I had to chuckle to myself. Here’s why…

The Barney series formed my earliest perceptions of the concept of "imagination". Imagination, however, is not just a child's plaything. (Image taken from Barney.com)

The Barney series formed my earliest perceptions of the concept of "imagination". Imagination, however, is not just a child's plaything. (Image taken from Barney.com)

Being the eldest of five siblings, I had the great fortune (or misfortune depending on how you see it) of keeping in touch with my childhood far longer than most of my peers. My parents were busy folks and trying to care for five children was not the easiest of tasks. For this reason I found myself spending a lot of time with my younger siblings whilst helping my parents babysit. Babysitting my siblings often involved watching re-runs of Barney the dinosaur on VHS (this was before CDs and DVDs mind you).  If any of you have had an experience with Barney, you would know that “imagination” was one of the recurring themes in this popular children’s series.  It is in this very context that I grew up relegating Barney and “imagination” to the realm of child’s play. Due to these experiences, I had subconsciously convinced myself that imagination was the antithesis to logic and reason, which I saw in essence as marks of adulthood and maturity.

If there is one thing I have learned about growing up, it is this: one of the greatest sources of growing pains (and relief) stems from unlearning the false “truths” that we have come to believe. In this case, my views on “imagination” as a primitive/prepubescent means of thought were radically reframed through this ethics course.

Imagination plays a bigger role in our adult lives than we may believe. Most of the time, we are not aware of how much of the choices we make depend on the extent of our imagination. Learning about the role of imagination in ethical decision making has revolutionized the way I look at life and education.

Imagination plays a bigger role in our adult lives than we may believe.

If you only learned to bow as a greeting growing up, chances are you won't ever figure out that shaking your hand is also a form of greeting. Our imagination is limited by our context.

If you only learned to bow as a greeting growing up, chances are you won't ever figure out that shaking your hand is also a form of greeting. Our imagination is limited by our context.

Our imagination (our ability to think, perceive and form mental images) is severely limited by our culture and context. This in turn limits the choices that we can make. If we only grow up learning choices “A, B, C”, it is beyond us to choose “D, E, F” if we never learn that “D, E, F” are actually valid choices. To cite an more concrete example, an international student who grew up in a culture where people only bow to each other will not know that shaking hands is an alternative means of greeting another person unless he or she is exposed to such a form of greeting. When you apply this example to moral/ethical living, we find that the type of choices we make is limited to what we have come to know. In other words, we cannot choose choices that are not a part of our imagination (perception).

This brings me to the point that I would like to make in this article: studying abroad in a foreign country is the perfect antidote to a limited imagination. Even though the multimedia age that we live in today ensures that we are more connected to the global community than ever before (media also shapes our imagination), there is still great value in traveling to another culture and learning about the inner workings of that said culture. Along the way, we find nuggets of wisdom that can help us become a more complete and ethical human being. Learning new ways to tackle life’s problems does not mean that we lose our cultural and ethnic identity; it merely means that we have the opportunity to become more efficient and creative at solving the problems life throws at us. One of the chief goals of quality education then should be an overwhelming emphasis on helping the learner expand his or her imagination.

Although there is no “perfect” culture in this world and there is value in respecting the uniqueness of all cultures that we encounter, the ability to “chew on the meat and spit out the bones” (so to speak) can help us get pretty far in becoming a better citizen in this global community. Studying abroad is but one of many ways to expand one’s imagination. However, if you ask me, it sure is the best way to do so.

Do you agree with this article? Do you have any suggestions, opinions or alternative points of view? Feel free to comment below. You can also contact the author at benjamin_skye@eli360.com

Comments!

  1. Debra
    February 15, 2012

    Hi Eli (this is a rewrite)
    I would totally agree with you. Imagination is as powerful as we allow it to be in our daily lives. How many times in our lives did we face a situation that involved a choice, or for us to make a decision, and we thought “no, there’s no way this is going to work…” only to later realize that is was possible. The reason we thought it wasn’t possible was because we only viewed options a and b as valid alternatives. Someone later might have said to us, “…you know, you could’ve done this or that?…(basically c, d or e?…)” That’s when we realize…Damn, no, I didn’t even think of that.

    Einstein once said that imagination is more important than knowledge. If you’re solving a differential equation problem on an exam, and are strictly limited to what the teacher showed you on Friday, but can’t solve it now because because she threw in a twist, you’regoing to be severely limited until you tap into your creative side.

    That said, I travelled to Italy several times, and you come back to the United States a changed person with a fresh perspective on dealing with your life. Whether it’s fashion, transporation, education, it yanks you outside the box. There are alternate ways for us to look at the world around us.

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