Moral Imaginations
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Moral Imaginations

Image from The Impossible Train Story video © 2021 Reilly Dow

Radical Imagination- Launching The Impossible Train Story Video: #FinishTheStory

Just over a year ago we created the The Impossible Train Story. Now we invite you to #FinishTheStory — join us to write your own ending to the story and join a movement of collective civic imagining.

Last year we launched the Impossible Train Story, an imaginary narrative practice that invites people to imagine the pandemic scenario through the metaphor of a train which has been moving since they can remember, and suddenly stops.

The story is an exercise of Moral Imaginations, the practice of stretching your imagination to imagine different possibilities for the future, with the moral responsibility to do so.

In April 2020, a group of 160 people joined us over 6 weeks for a first season of Moral Imaginations, meeting each week to practice and put their moral imaginations into action. Since then there have been more labs exploring the imagination and taking community members, policy-makers, civil society leaders, people working in NGOs, funders and professionals through the collective imagination practices.

The best part of the process has been the huge amount of creativity that has emerged from the groups that have been meeting. One output was that three people from Moral Imaginations (myself, Reilly Dow, Pietro Marchesi) came together to create an animated video of The Impossible Train Story which can be watched at home or with friends, which we share with you in this post.

The video opens up the possibility of you hosting your own Impossible Train Story imagining session, with your team, colleagues or family, in whatever setting you choose. Below you can find details about how to host this yourself.

Hosting an Impossible Train Session

The Impossible Train Story is a creation of Moral Imaginations, and can be used as a tool with groups in all settings to catalyse and kickstart a process of deep reimagining of the future post-COVID. The entire process can be done in under 20 minutes.

The story, narration, visuals and sounds build up a sensory experience of a portal into a metaphoric world not far away from this one — where a group of human beings have to make a decision on what to do next with their future after a Great Pause.

Take 4 minutes to listen to The Impossible Train Story, and be ready with a pen or an open document to start writing immediately after the video ends. You can set a stopwatch for 7 minutes and start to write freely when the narration is over.

When you’re finished, you could find a friend to discuss what you discovered and wrote, or if you do it with someone, use the remaining time you have to read each other your pieces.

Remember, there is no right answer, and each time you listen to the video you will have a different story emerge from you, depending on what is going on for you on that day and specific moment.

You do not need to show anyone what you wrote, in fact, some people have been using it as a prompt to use solo when journalling. It can be used as a reflective tool and a way to access deeper imagination and ask big questions.

Do the exercise in a group

You can also host a viewing party where you bring together 4–5 friends together on Zoom and brainstorm an ending to the story. You can follow this format if you like:

  • Give a bit of an introduction
  • Share your screen and audio and play The Impossible Train Story
  • Take 6–7 minutes free writing in silence into the Zoom chat window
  • Press ‘send’ at the same time when the time is up
  • Take it turns to read your story ending out loud
  • Bonus step: brainstorm an ending that brings in elements of all of your endings into one combined ending!

Add a translation

We have been approached to translate the story to French and Spanish so far — and welcome anyone who would like to record a version of the story in their own language. You can find the script here.

Look at some story endings from our community

Below you can find some of the endings to the story as written by members of the Moral Imaginations community. To join the community, please get in touch at with your ending to the train story and we will invite you to the next upcoming session.

More and more people get off the train, as they are now more exposed to that intuitive intelligence inside of them, as they begin to listen to it. They may not be sure how to exist outside of the train -the train was always part of everyone’s identity- but they are confident in their ability to create a new way of life, co-create a new collective identity. Some people are still terrified of the unknown, for an abundance of reasons. Those getting off are seeing that these people are too reluctant to listen, so as they get off they try to pull the train away from the cliff edge, by sheer manual force and by any crafty means they can imagine. And they save the train. Eventually, life is outside the train. But the people do not abandon the train, they place it at the top of a hillside and make a statue of it, there to remind them of humility and of all that is to be imprinted and remembered from the old times.

We rebuilt the train, only there’s no longer different classes for passengers, and all the people who work on the train are treated well, and have a universal income that suits all, there is hierarchy but decentralised power and the train is fuelled by less than it needs to continue forever, using solar power to feed all the services and people on the train, taking only what’s needed at the time and giving back more as it can and as it very, very slowly slows over the next millennium, always harmonious, always with equality, equity and closeness, kindness and care for all, since we are all one in every way, and always will be

Since the train stopped, we’ve seen so many odd, shocking, and inspiring things. People outside their train cars protesting to be let back on to enjoy their window views and demanding their familiar entitlements served by others. Tensions outside the train bringing rise to tragedies, now more visible to all. A pair of humans board a shiny new train to the sky, launch, and arrive at the sky station to much applause. People from different cars, witnessing tragedy on tragedy declaring enough, and banding together in solidarity, and confront and witness more tragedies. Reports that despite the apparent stoppage, the train is still moving, slowly, and the upcoming cliff, still crumbling away.

The people are dazed and confused. What does it mean to live off the train? They feel the expansiveness of the world around them — the possibility, the sounds, the smells, the feeling of a cool breeze on their skin. They are overwhelmed, and feel afraid at the strength of experience, the unboundedness. They have always lived in the confines of their boxes on the train, and hardly had any space to move and be free. Spontaneously, people start dancing. They feel like they can remember a time where they would move their bodies and celebrate and commune and be together in these new and ancient ways. There is a fascination at the plants that seem to grow directly from the ground. They always knew that plants and tomatoes and spinach came from the ground… But somehow they had never witnessed the alchemy. And that’s what it is, alchemy… The people realise that they have been colonised and oppressed for so long. The people in power have also felt shut down, crammed, oppressed, squeezed, stiff — and they start to come undone… In their clothes, their shirts become untucked, heavy jewellery gets cast off.

Their heavy, weary faces start to relax. People look younger again, and have the sun on their faces. They realise that this was the gift they were given, the world and the soil and the fresh air and breeze, it’s all free, it’s all there, it’s all up for sensing and feeling and experiencing — and that’s when someone shouts out. “SEND THE TRAIN OVER THE EDGE!!!” And the crowd starts chanting “over the edge! over the edge!” The final people are evacuated from the train, and the people who have been sitting in council for days and days finally decide to do the impossible, the courageous, the only thing there was to do in this moment. The conductors take the keys to the front, and restart the train. This time, no-one is on it. The train lurches and grumbles and a huge screeching sound sends the train in momentum forward, swaying from side to side, great clouds of black smoke and pollution and chemicals fill the air.. The people are dizzy with confusion, with shock, and with the smell that reminds them of how they used to live.

10 years after the train broke down, the passengers on the train gathered back to commemorate the place where the brakes were discovered and the train was stopped.
There are now many trains, and carriages are free to connect and go where they wish, with passengers and staff freely moving between them too.
Solar powered trams weave their way noiselessly through the birds and the flourishing gardens and forests, the vibrancy of the ecotones where order senses into imagined realms of natural beauty and wonder are treasured by all.

The healers, mystics, seers and shamans step forward. They step forward without the shame previously experienced by them when they show themselves. Now is their time.
“We know what might be the right thing to do here”
They speak with such gentle power that many of the survivors listen. A few are combative, but are soothed by other survivors.
A Council is created. The Four Directions are elected, and take their places. Everyone is able to speak in turn, using the Talking Stick.
Millennia of experience pulse through the people. Animals creep in round the edges, the trees bend to listen, the stream flows quieter.
With an Invocation to the Highest Power.
the Council begins …

The children sat atop a cantilevered rock at the cliff’s edge and would call into the chasm listening for their echoes. when they’d tire of these conversations, they’d lie back and watch the sky and one noticed birds flying back and forth between the land and the chasm. the birds would zip and zoom over land, but as they entered the space of no reference, they’d slow and glide and let their bodies be taken on the drafts of wind before dipping a wing and turning back to zip and dive for insects popping above the grasses. allegro for hunger, legato for wonder. perhaps the chasm isn’t a crisis, but the portal into allowing new reference points, surrendering to flow.

it was the children who drew attention to the fact that playtime was needed. finally, since all the weird work stopped, the parents had time to play. and so they started playgrounds next to the train. they took turns in fighting the fire and started building community gardens next to the train. over the days and months and years that followed they started living, though close to the abyss, but living. moss grew over the train and the course of the train and one day they dared to take a walk to the cliffedge and looked down. holy shit, they mumbled, what a blessing that fire started… and they returned to their community gardens and played on with the kids while the birds were chirping.

With everybody in pain, will we argue about whose pain will be allowed to be felt? With the cliff in our sight how much time will we spend on how angry we are at others or ourselves who ignored the cliff? What will the conversation be like? How can we balance accountability and forgiveness?

What will we sacrifice to build a better future? …people realized that whatever they gave up together was no sacrifice. Sacrifice only existed when everyone thought of themselves as separate from everyone else. The people operating the train knew this, and that’s why they made sure everyone remained as separate as possible, stuck in their own seat. But outside of the burning train people can rediscover the interconnectedness, the interdependence. And all the walls, all the separations, all the borders blur away.

The people started to move out of the train. Away from the fire. They took off their shoes. And for the first time they felt the soft green grass underneath their feet. They laid down. Resting their bodies on the earth. They stayed still. For a long time. Step by step they found the way to move. Keeping the feeling of the earth underneath their feet. Moving slowly to the ledge. they moved together. Until they reached the end. Holding hands they looked down.

Who do we choose to be? The question lingered in the air as the smoke and ashes from the fire had done earlier. The time to think was given but its extension was not disclosed. A sense of urge and imminency in friction with the renewed atmosphere of stillness. The trees were waiting. They had been there for centuries, patient, immutable yet highly communicative amidst each other. The rivers, the seas, the waters of the world kept flowing, some gingerly, some impetuously, seemingly careless of the human conundrum yet perhaps careful, cautious of the implications this new wave of manmade decision might have once again on their streams. The clarity was already disappearing. But there was hope. And within that hope, there lingered a promise of freedom.

As the evening drew late and the darkness crept at the edges of the firelight, squirrels and rabbits, deer, and field mice, birds and animals of every kind started gathering around the fires too. The children marvelled and the adults quieted their discussions for a moment, sensing into the eternal harmony of conscious awareness. They would build new paths to take people back to nature, children in their wonder would lead the way, and the adults continued telling their stories, woven around the nature and the wonder.

there was an opening, a condition for re-invention, like a wormhole in the universe to access a different dimension. But it took tending, it took care, it took the choice to be intentional in that space of possibilities together to re-imagine what path we chose to walk in

Traumatised by the train coming to a standstill, forces of banal lack of imagination restarted it, improving the engines through electrification so it could continue its journey moving towards hyper-normal compared with the normal of years past…… forces for creative imagination of a far better future for all applied makeshift brakes and slowed the train but are unable to stop it, the wrestle between the forces becomes and eternal struggle, like the toll of a great brass bell going on for eternity!

The passengers went to look into the deep, deep cavern. Why were the tracks laid to take the train straight off the edge? The ‘authorities’ that had been driving the train on and on and were so keen to get it going again had lost all authority. The train company, though they claimed they could lay new tracks that went around the chasm, could no longer find passengers for their train. People joined into small groups and started their campfires, telling stories to each other about the different kinds of journeys they would like to take.

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Phoebe Tickell — Narratives, complexity, systems. Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on complexity approaches, systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development.

Fostering the muscle to collectively dream that which is possible, and the moral responsibility to do so.

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Phoebe Tickell

Phoebe Tickell

Cares about the common good. Building capacity for deep systems change. Complexity & ecosystems obsessive. Experiments for everything. 10 yrs #systemsthinking.

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