It’s Time to Use Our Moral Imagination

June 23, 2020

Dr Cynthia Geppert invites listeners to have the courage to use their imagination to rebuild a better and kinder world

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

  • Imagine by John Lennon

This iconic song inspired Geppert, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Ethics Education at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, to share her thoughts on moral imagination. Dr Geppert is also the Ethics Chair for Psychiatric Times, and serves on the Editorial Board.

Although many believe these are utopian lyrics, she explains, she sees it as having faith in humanism and an expression of the idealistic belief that the world can be better. Lennon hopes for things—for ideals—that we may or may not agree with and may or may not be possible. Yet, if every person uses this moral imagination to explore a better world, maybe we can make it happen, Geppert notes.

Leveraging cognitive science, Mark Johnson shared introduced the idea of moral imagination in the book by the same title. Here, Geppert challenges us to discern the various possibilities on how we can act, despite the challenges faced by the pandemic—or any hardship. The goal, she explains, is not to retreat into fantasy or escape, but rather to face the terrible realities and set ourselves free through our imaginations. Doing so, she explains, allows us to leverage renewal and empathy as we move forward.

Geppert points to the examples of the good we have seen as a result of the pandemic, and ponders how we might bring those positives forward with us as we re-open and re-emerge into the post-lockdown and quarantine world. For instance, animals have returned to their habitats and exploring areas they had long abandoned in national parks worldwide. Perhaps, she muses, as we move forward, we can find ways to enjoy our natural surroundings without disturbing these animals’ homes. Animal shelters quickly emptied with lockdown. She ponders, is there a way to encourage adoptions and fostering in the future? Pollution has subsided in many areas. Can we can continue to forgo some car and plane trips to minimize the damage to our environment? Recovered patients donated plasma, health care workers put their own well-being aside to care for others, and people have offered to shop for the elderly and the sick. Can we continue to value and foster the acts of altruism seen during these hard times?

Geppert reminds us of what a fellow dreamer shared, as he helped eradicate polio, which was once considered impossible: “There is hope in dreams, imagination, and in the courage of those who wish to make those dreams a reality.” And she invites listeners to have the courage to use their imagination to rebuild a better and kinder world with COVID-19 and after COVID-19.

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one.