Our Visionary Moment

by Scott London

Here’s a tough question: What does it mean to be a visionary? Here’s an even tougher challenge: Give your answer in 100 words or less.

A few years ago, British author and philanthropist William Murtha invited me (and about 200 others) to do just that for a book he was writing. He also asked us to name five books that have profoundly influenced our thinking.

100 Words - A Book by William MurthaI reflected on it for several days. It seemed to me that our world is sorely in need of visionaries, yet most of us don’t know how to be one. We’re confused by appearances. We traffic in intellectual constructs and abstract formulations, but we forget to look within, to our own source of truth. We neglect the authority of our deepest knowing.

To be a visionary meant nothing, I felt, unless it involved looking beyond appearances to the essence of things. To be a visionary means perceiving with the heart — taking our cues from within and holding fast to that truth even, and perhaps especially, when the culture seems to contradict it at every turn.

This certainly seemed to be one of the common characteristics of the visionaries I have known and worked with as a journalist.

I remembered a line from the great British scientist Jacob Bronowski: “In every age there is a turning-point, a new way of seeing and asserting the coherence of the world,” he wrote. “Each culture tries to fix its visionary moment, when it is transformed by a new conception either of nature or of man.” It was my sense, then as now, that for those of us living in the West, this is our unique and visionary moment as a culture.

In the end, I sent Murtha 100 words on the subject of discovering our unique genius.

Now his book is out. It’s called 100 Words: Two Hundred Visionaries Share Their Hope For the Future and includes contributions from a host of remarkable people. They include Jane Goodall, Alice Walker, Angeles Arrien, Bill Drayton, Lynne Twist, Frances Moore Lappe, Julia Butterfly Hill, Ben Okri, Barbara Marx Hubbard, and many others.

Murtha calls them creative souls, passionate activists, way-showers, and doers who are paving the way for all of us.

He says the book represents “a testament to the hopes, resilience, courage, and life-message of the visionaries. This is their story. And best of all, their uplifting and courageous stories clearly demonstrate much of what is going right in the world.”

If you happen to be in Santa Barbara on August 15, 2010, please consider coming to a special book signing at Chaucer’s Bookstore from 3:00-5:00 p.m. I’ll be joined by fellow contributors Noah benShea, Barbara Fields, Barbara Marx Hubbard, and C. Jean Wiedemann. Chaucer’s is generously donating 10 percent of the proceeds to the nonprofits of the contributors.

Five Contributors to William Murtha's 100 Words

Five of the people featured in William Murtha's "100 Words: Two Hundred Visionaries Share Their Hope for the Future" appeared at a book signing at Chaucer's Bookstore in Santa Barbara, California, on August 15, 2010. From left to right: Scott London, Barbara Fields, Noah benShea, Barbara Marx Hubbard, and Jean Wiedemann. (Photo by Alka Arora.)

Links and further information

  • Sharing Their Hope” by Karna Hughes, Santa Barbara News-Press, August 15, 2010
  • Additional photos from the book signing at Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara
  • Five Books I Love — A blog entry about the 5 titles I selected for 100 Words
  • Order 100 Words from Amazon.com