Creativity is not icing on the cake. It is the cake.
Artists have a false reputation of being neurotic, pessimistic, and depressed. But artists, if they are depressed, create in spite, not because of depression. I wrote a blog about this controversial view presented in the book Against Depression by Peter Kramer. His whole theory is basically this: Creating consistently requires a sense of optimism. You’ve got to believe there is a way to tell your story or paint your picture. It makes sense. You’ve got to be resilient. Your plot is going to fall apart hundreds of times, and you’ve got to figure out a way to put it all together and make it work.
Besides Kramer’s book, I’ve learned elsewhere that creativity is essential for mental health. I’ve taken classes on forgiveness and anger management and both teach the same skill: story-telling. According to Fred Luskin of Stanford University, there are 3 steps to creating and holding a grudge:
(1) You take something too personally
(2) You blame someone else for how bad you feel
(3) You create a grievance story.
The grievance story is something that you, the “victim,” repeat over and over in your head. The way to forgive, to move on, is to tell a new story where you are the hero.
In anger management, you learn the same thing. The feeling of anger lasts 90 seconds. 90 seconds. Please check out this amazing video about the teen brain where Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor says the same thing. So what keeps the anger going for hours, days, years, a lifetime? The story you tell yourself about the event. That is where you can intercede and step in. Change the story. Become the hero, not the victim.
To do all this, you need to be creative.
What made me think about this today (not that I don’t every day) is a New York Times post headlined Marketing to Children Drowns Out Innovation.
Creativity — our ability to invent, conjure, envision, think divergently, and change the status quo — is essential to a thriving democracy and is rooted in children’s creative play.
I was talking to a teacher friend recently who said that 10 or 15 years ago, if she asked her Kindergarten class what their favorite colors were, she heard many different answers. Now, she still hears the boys name many different colors, but the girls almost all say pink…
Doesn’t that suck? A classroom of girls and all the colors in the world, and this is what they say? What are the longterm affects of groupthink in little kids?
I keep asking on Reel Girl: Why do parents put up with the gender stereotypes marketed to little kids? At least with “progressive,” urban parents, those in my world, I think a major reason is that they believe it’s just a phase, so harmless. Kids will grow out of loving pink or loving princesses. But kids who learn groupthink instead of creativity will have a harder time thinking independently. And I mean really independently, not reactively, which is just another form of groupthink. Again, you’ve got to watch Taylor’s teen brain video.
On developing brains, psychologist/ author Stephen Mitchell writes in one of my favorite books ever, Can Love Last?:
However, the traditional dichotomy of nature versus nurture that has dominated Western philosophy and psychology has been profoundly challenged by recent advances in neurophysiology. The stratification model of human experience, nature versus nurture– was predicated on the assumption that human biology was a complete package at birth…
The brain of the newborn, we now know, is only partially developed. Nerve cells and neural pathways are incomplete at birth; they are shaped to a considerable extent by the baby’s experience with others.
Mitchell is echoed by neuroscientist Lise Eliot, author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain. She writes:
“Babies are born ready to absorb the sounds, grammar, and intonation of any language, but then the brain wires it up only to perceive and produce a specific language. After puberty, its possible to learn another language but far more difficult. I think of gender differences similarly. The ones that exist become amplified by the two different cultures that boys and girls are immersed in from birth. This contributes to the way their emotional and cognitive circuits get wired.”
Both Mitchell and Eliot support the idea that humans are born into the world with “potentials.” Qualities humans are designed for can “turn on” or “emerge.”
These ideas on brain development take on the basic assumptions of Enlightenment, the driving theory behind the last century, which Mitchell summarizes as “a correct, rational, scientific, fantasy-free way to understand the world.” Mitchell summarizes the Enlightenment world view into three basic assumptions:
(1) All genuine questions have answers
(2) All true answers are discoverable and teachable to others
(3) All answers are in principle compatible
Mitchell describes reality, or realities, instead where fantasy and reality continually create each other. He writes:
It is the hallmark of the shift in basic psychoanalytic sensibility that the prototype of mental health for many contemporary psychoanalyitc authors is not the scientist but the artist. A continual objective take on reality is regarded as neither possible nor valuable in contrast to the ability to develop and move in and out of different perspectives of reality.
I’m not a scientist. I’m a writer and a mom, and I’m appalled by what people are calling “natural.” In the future, people are going to look back on this time and be mystified by what we did to little kids.