Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in Wonderland? Or work at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory? Or have an apartment on Sesame Street?
Would your life be better? More fun? More exciting?
A while back I asked the following question on our Facebook page: Which imaginary place would you most like to visit? The responses were quite varied (my favorite might actually be “my clean house”), but here are a few classics that popped up:
- Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
- Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and the Land of Make Believe
- Charlie’s Chocolate Factory
- Sesame Street
- Munchkin Land in Oz
- Florin (from the Princess Bride)
The list itself conjures up some great memories from my own childhood. I began thinking about all these imaginary places and wondered if they had anything in common. What made them so special that people would want to visit (or even live there)? And even more importantly, is there anything we can do to make the real world we live in more like those fictional places? I decided that there definitely is, and here’s what I came up with:
Open Your Eyes to Wonder and Imagine the Impossible.
In each of the locations listed, wonder and imagination abounds. The impossible is made possible. Although each place is rooted in reality (that is, there are elements of each world that are similar to our own), there are definitely some exciting differences. Playing cards can walk. Muppets can talk. Magic is real. And rivers are made of chocolate.
In fact, our world is just as wondrous as the fictional ones written about above. Granted, I am unaware of any chocolate rivers, but consider a bay where the water glows and lights bubble to the surface like flourescent Champagne. Or a wall so big it can be seen from space. Skies that magically pulse with washes of vibrant color. A giant white marble palace built by an emperor in honor of his wife who died in labor with their fourteenth child. A curious and breathtaking multi-colored canyon 6,000 feet deep. An ocean so vast that many marine ecologists believe there are still mysterious and massive creatures yet to be discovered.
We need to remove the hazy gray film covering our eyes, created by years of apathy and cynicism. We think we’ve seen it all, so we stop looking. Start again. See the world with new eyes. Watch a toddler on his first trip to the zoo and you will see someone who is as impressed as you’d be on your first day in Wonderland.
And as far as the impossible is concerned, think about how many things we now enjoy that weren’t possible just 200 years ago. The electric light bulb. Automobiles. Air travel. Space travel. Telephone. Radio. Television. Computers. The Internet. The iPhone. To the early American settlers, these inventions (and thousands of others) would have seemed as fantastical to them as a television that could transport chocolate would seem to us. Even in our world, the impossible can be made possible.
But only by the people who are brave enough to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
Embrace (and Learn From) Diversity.
Another thing that strikes me about these imaginary places is the breathtaking level of diversity. There are unicorns, wizards, elves, fairies, talking trees, oompa loompas, munchkins, flying monkeys, muppets, basilisks, centaurs, and even humans. (Just to name a few.) Each has a unique point of view and valuable gifts to offer. The fates of these storybook worlds are often tied to the level of success the individuals have in sharing those talents and working together.
The same is true of our own world, of course. Although diversity has become a hackneyed politically correct buzzword, there is a dizzying array of it in our world, and our willingness to work together will determine whether we will all eventually sink or swim.
I was recently on a jury for a very complicated trial. In the deliberation room after both sides presented their cases, twelve people with different backgrounds and points of view were tasked with coming up with a consensus. It was a challenge. My eyes were opened to some new ways of thinking and I learned a lot about people and about myself. Five hours later, we’d reached a decision, and I think we were all impressed and proud of what twelve strangers had been able to accomplish, despite our differences.
It’s easy, comfortable, and very, very human, to stick close to the people that think and act like us. But once in a while, we need situations that are foreign in order to grow. Whether it’s by traveling to someplace new, taking a class in a subject you know nothing about, or attending a party attended by people you wouldn’t normally interact with, create opportunities to enrich your life by experiencing diversity.
Live a Better Story.
Another thing that is appealing about these imaginary places is that the inhabitants always seem to be engaged in some epic story, a grand adventure. People don’t sit around channel surfing or balancing checkbooks or buying underwear at Wal-Mart. No sirree Bob. There are exciting, wonderful, and dangerous things happening all the time. There is passion. There is a purpose. There are big, holy cow kinds of goals and missions in which life and death often hang in the balance.
There is a great book by Donald Miller called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. (It has catapulted into the top five most personally influential books I’ve ever read.) In it, Miller challenges himself (and the reader) to consider the type of stories we are living. What are we striving for? Miller argues that we are all living a story, but far too few are the stuff that sumer blockbusters are made of.
What about you? Are you on a mission? Is your life leading to something great? Are you taking risks, striving tirelessly, and undergoing your own hero’s journey?
Or are you going through the motions in a vanilla-flavored rut-filled life? If so, it might be time to start living a life on par with the heroes of Narnia.
Don’t Forget That Good Always Triumphs.
Some of the places I’ve listed are always safe — no drive-by shootings on Sesame Street — but in most cases, danger and evil are ever-present. But in the end, good always prevails. The bad guy always gets his comeuppance (or becomes a good guy.) I think this is a big reason why we look so fondly at these imaginary locations. In our world, it seems like the nice guys really do finish last and that evil gets off scott free.
The reality is that in the end, good will triumph in our world. It’s just not always resolved in such a neat and tidy fashion as is common in storybooks and two-hour movies. Sometimes we don’t even live to see it. But I have come to believe and experience that things do eventually work out for the best, if given enough time. There is a battle between good and evil in our world, and we must choose sides. Hang out with good people. Do good works. Believe in something bigger than yourself. And there’s no doubt in my mind that your story will end happily ever after.
So that’s my take. What similarities do you see between the imaginary places from our favorite stories? And what other ways can we make our real world more like these fantasy worlds?
[This article was originally published over at Dumb Little Man. There are some great insights to be found in the comments over there!]
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