Kids live and breathe to play. They live to experiment with different materials, they love using their hands and bodies to learn about the world around them, they are unburdened by the constructs of time, and they are not afraid to build things up and knock them down again.
Someone once said that to be a child is to look at the world around you without labels. And that is what kids do so well. They enjoy the process of building up Lego blocks and knocking them down again. They don’t see these as ‘mistakes’ or a ‘failures’.
Kids look at the other kids in their classroom and they don’t think of labels like ‘diversity’ or ‘gender differences’. They think of them as their friends.
Call it ‘Play’, call it ‘Creativity’. Children are just much more attuned to this innate creative spirit than we adults are.
Along the way, adults pick up the sense of fear and shame at not conforming to the rest of society. We start losing our sense of independent thought, we start following the voices of authority telling us to colour within the lines and to paint our skies blue, to fall in line and to fear the opinions of others.
Kids are not afraid to ask questions of people, and directly so. They have not yet learned how to fear what others think of them. They are innately curious about the world around them and about other people. In fact, sometimes, to adults, they are embarrassingly open with their feelings.
Claire and I travelled back to Singapore recently for my Popo’s (paternal grandmother) funeral. Remembering how her Ah Chor (great-grandmother) had spent some time in a wheelchair, Claire saw another elderly lady in a wheelchair at Ghim Moh market and said, quite loudly, “Mama, is that old lady going to be in a coffin soon?”
As parents, we have the role of teaching our young ones social decorum, what is appropriate to ask, what is not, how loud to speak, which questions are considered taboo, what is considered taboo to mention in front of certain people.
I suppose this will help them in social situations as they learn how to behave in a ‘proper’ manner. However, I can’t help wondering if I am responsible for curbing the enthusiastic, creative responses; If I am somehow, responsible for conforming her to vanilla blandness, censoring her from what is uniquely her.
One of my favourite storybooks is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
The themes of love and sacrifice are intrinsically intertwined in our lives and it helps to always reflect on where we are, where we’ve come from and where we are going.
This column is my ‘journal’ of sorts, to explore the intersection between the roots and wings of this life.
And then there are schools.
In some ways, I believe, that many of us adults have been schooled out of our innate creativity. We have been schooled to believe that creativity does not matter, or that, even worse, the world is divided into the creative types, and the non-creative types.
The colourful, hands-on curriculum of kindergarden, with its exploratory framework for play-based learning, gets gradually replaced as we flow through the education system, by the eventual standard answers to high-pressure exams taken in a cold, freezing room, white-washed walls and rows upon rows of fluorescent white ceiling lights. We are schooled out of any creative sensibility we might have. Both physically in our visual environment, and in our internal imaginative environment.
“We are all innately creative”
It is a myth that creativity is the domain of the few, the artists, the musicians, the craftsmen. It is a myth that some are born creative while others are not. We are all innately creative. Some of us have just forgotten how to be so. Or perhaps we have just fooled ourselves into believing that we don’t have the permission to play and be creative.
David Kelley, one of America’s leading design innovators and managing partner of international design firm IDEO has made it his goal to help people re-learn what he terms as ‘Creative Confidence’.
This was what David and his brother Tom said:
““Most people are born creative. As children, we revel in imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, draw blobs and call them dinosaurs. But over time, because of socialization and formal education, a lot of us start to stifle those impulses. We learn to be warier of judgment, more cautious, more analytical. The world seems to divide into “creatives” and “noncreatives,” and too many people consciously or unconsciously resign themselves to the latter category.”
David believes that just as it is possible for people to gradually guided towards overcoming their phobias, it is possible for people to re-learn their lost creative instincts and to get rid of their fear of creativity.
Many authors such as Sir Ken Robinson who wrote the best-selling ‘The Element” and educators have also spoken of the need to prioritise the learning, or perhaps more accurately, the re-learning of creativity in our educational instituitions and work places. In fact, Ken Robinson posits that “creativity is as important as literacy” in education.
I feel blessed that as a musician, I get to explore my creativity in very tangible, musical forms. But there is room for creativity in every human endeavour. To be human is to creative. As Henri Matisse puts it, “creativity takes courage”.
Creativity also takes empathy, as illustrated by the experience of principal designer of GE Healthcare, Doug Dietz.
Dietz found a creative solution to addressing childrens’ fear of being isolated and immobile in the huge noisy MRI medical devices. He made a playground and adventure out of the machines by turning them into submarines and pirate ships with a little bit of paint, lights and imagination. The end result was that instead of 80% of children being sedated before going through the MRI because of fear, 10% of children are now sedated and the rest benefit from Doug’s creative solution to a problem. His empathy was the fuel that gave rise to his creative solution.
Ultimately, creativity is a reconnecting to our childhood selves. We just have to remember how to play as we once did as kids. We just have to tap into that well that may have been covered over by a myriad of artifacts from our past and present, from people who meant well, but inadvertently discouraged our creativity, from teachers who might have said something to sway our self-confidence in our creativity, from bosses who might have coerced us to conform.
Creativity is what makes us come alive. It is that source of wonder, life and joy in discovering something new for the first time and realizing that no one else in the world sees the world quite like you do. It is believing that the uniqueness of your DNA and your fingerprints do not just end in your physical existence, but that your whole being is permeated by your very own way of thinking, and your own way of solving problems.
It is believing that no one else has ever been or will take your place in history and hence there is an urgency and an absolute requirement to live your life authentically as only you can, with your unique blend of talents. It is in knowing that you are living your life to give of something truly unique, that no one else ever could or ever would again, and making the choices in life that enable you to do so.
It is having the courage to act when you are called on to contribute your talents and gifts for the good of humanity. It is a way to connect with another, to empathise, to live more fully in the here and now.
It is in approaching each situation and moment with the wisdom of experience, and the fearlessness of children.
Top photo from here.