What are Your Imaginal Disks?

John Bordeaux
3 min readMay 31, 2020

“Can you do anything about the other students? They keep posting COVID-19 conversations in the discussion group, even when it’s off topic. Please, I was hoping school would be a respite from talking about the virus.”

There is a hunger to move on, as summer beckons, to begin a post-pandemic life. There is a rush to restart business and vacations, and millions clamor to reset the clock — despite minimal change to risk factors for most Americans. We want to move on and forget.

This is humanity’s urge, not new to us. Irish historians struggled to find first-person narratives among survivors of the Great Famine. What they encountered among aged countrymen was a profound sense of embarrassment and reticence to share their stories. They had turned their backs on the shared catastrophe, bearing a shame that was not theirs to carry. The Famine Museum is a thin reed to Ireland’s profound disruption of the 19th century. We risk a similar loss if we turn away from the virus that has shaken us all and felled thousands.

I considered my MBA student’s request, before denying her the respite she sought.

“This will be one of the main stories of your time. It would be malpractice for me to steer the class away from this sudden assault on our lives which threatens individual health and pillars of our society.

“Rather than looking away, you will be needed to help shape whatever is next, both in terms of this class and more importantly in life. In those conversations, you will be looked to as someone with a graduate degree in business. You will be asked these questions by family and colleagues. In this class, try to steer the COVID-19 questions to the implications. What comes next for a just-in-time economy? Will we accept a capitalism that places shareholder values above community values? What does corporate social responsibility look like in post-pandemic world? Come up with your own questions.”

After it forms its cocoon, a caterpillar digests most of itself into food for its next life as a butterfly. This caterpillar soup contains “imaginal disks,” structured cell clusters that will form the basic elements of the butterfly. Many, not all, of us are fortunate to be in cocoons now. Perhaps it’s time to consider what imaginal disks are contained with us that will grow and form whatever is next for us — yes, feeding on what went before.