Thoughts on Tradition

Thoughts on Tradition

2018.11.24-25

Growing Community

 

It is that time of year in which traditions seem to take on a higher priority.  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or something else, almost every community has its winter solstice-time traditions.  These traditions are generally passed from one generation to the next, and they provide a very important connection to the past.  Thus, these traditions are a direct link from the past to the future.  They give us direction, personal relationship and serve to honor the culture from which they originated.  We receive our core values from our traditions. 

 

Traditions and core values are important because they provide the framework of a community.  Within a family traditions serve to provide us identity.  Most of our traditions are based upon our history and they provide the framework for who we are today or in the present.  Our traditions reinforce the values we hold dear, the core values that help define us.  Through our traditions we celebrate those things that are dear to us and that we consider important.  By such celebrations we honor our role models, the tenets of our religious and/or spiritual beliefs, and the structure upon which our communities are built.

 

What happens when we stop honoring those traditions?  Award-winning author Frank Sonnenberg cautions that if we stop honoring our traditions, “our beliefs will get so diluted, over time, that our way of life will become foreign to us.”  Within the modern-day community, though, there are often differing traditions.  Our traditions do provide us a forum to show what is really important to us but what if our neighbor does not celebrate in the same way?

 

In the past culture is what brought a community together.  Culture referred to a pattern of human activity and the symbols which gave significance to tradition. Culture is represented through the art, literature, costumes, customs, and traditions of a community. Different cultures have always existed in different parts of the world. The natural environment greatly affected the lifestyle of the people in that region, thus shaping their culture. The diversity in the cultures around the world was also a result of the mindsets of people inhabiting different regions of the world.

 

Today, however, we have a far more mobile society and a community is often the home of varying cultures.  Culture has served to link people and their value systems.  Have we lost that in the 21st century?  Can we create culture among so many different behaviors?  At a time when people are shouting “remember the reason for the season”, have we forgotten how to be civil towards each other?  Traditions serve to unite us but at this time of year, they also serve to divide us.  Lawsuits will be filed to determine what symbols can be placed in public locations.  People will decry the “happy Holidays” that encompasses the complete community to honor a man who advocated love for all.  Can such a traditional saying meant to show support for all really be so divisive?

 

Traditions developed as a way to continue the family unit, to illustrate identity and for celebration.  Unfortunately, there are many who fear embracing the whole community.  Rather than our traditions promoting empathy and the engagement of citizenship, too often they serve to be contentious. 

 

I hope this year as we celebrate the core values behind our traditions we remember to let those traditions evolve.  We have a few traditions in our family that have developed from less than perfect times.  On a day where most people in our community and country eat turkey, we include hot tamales on our table.  We do serve turkey as well as ham, green bean casserole, corn pudding, stuffing, filling, dressing (the last three being very similar but each representing all sections of the cultures from which family members have been raised), potatoes (usually two kinds), etc.  A prominent spot on the table, however, is reserved for the hot tamales.  They represent a Thanksgiving gone bad but yet, at the end of the day when all we had to eat was one can of hot tamales, a day in which we truly appreciated our blessings and togetherness. 

 

It is wonderful to have the picture-perfect traditional dinner or holiday tree, etc.  Nonetheless, we should not consider the holiday ruined if it is not impeccable or flawless.  In our communities we need to strive more for inclusion and smiles rather than a movie-set depiction of any holiday.  I think the best way to keep our traditions – all our traditions – is by remembering their reason.  Most traditions are based upon love and strength.  This year I hope we find the strength to honor those who are different and share the love of life with them.  We build stronger communities through the tradition of community – the coming together, the engaging of others in a shared experience called life.

 

 

Losing a Community – Lessons of Stan Lee

Losing a Community – Lessons of Stan Lee

2018.11.13

Growing Community

 

With pen and paper, Stan Lee created communities of fiction that, sometimes, became fact.  All of the quotes in today’s posts are his.  Stan lee passed away earlier this week at the age of 95 but his legacy will live on in his characters but more importantly in their examples and dialogue.

 

Two weeks ago I happened upon an advertisement for a house in Calabasas, California.  I still am not sure what I entered into the search engine to arrive at this site and yet, intrigued by the house pictures, I happily spent twenty minutes there.  It was a real estate website and the houses featured were gorgeous – large, sprawling, and guaranteed to make anyone envious.  Yesterday, as I watched the national news about the horrific wildfires in California, something looked familiar.  Then I realized it was part of one of the houses from my earlier search in Calabasas.  Sure enough, the captions showed I was correct with the location. 

 

The community I had so envied fourteen days ago was not smoldering rubble.  No one would be envious of those who had lost their home.  Fourteen days ago the houses I had viewed online seemed flawless and one would have assumed that their owners led charmed lives.  “No one has a perfect life.  Everybody has something that he wishes was not the way it is.”

 

When we think about community, as I mentioned last week, we tend to think of a homogenous area where people share many things in common.  Today, many families in Calabasas are sharing grief and horror.  “I think people have always loved things that are bigger than life, things that are imaginative.”  I was certainly envious of those mansions I had viewed online.  They not only tweaked my envy but my imagination.  I had spent time pretending I lived there, happily forgetting the knee pain the winding grand staircases would have increased or the problems in cleaning the yardage of windows.

 

This had been a community of my dreams but not of my reality.  I could not fathom having clothes and shoes enough to fill the massive walk-in closets.  In truth, I would not enjoy such but still, for a brief time, it was fun to imagine living in such a community. 

 

“Every day, there’s a new development…There’s no limit to the things that are happening.”  The day after I had perused those impeccably designed grand manors in the California community of Calabasas, I looked about my own much more modest abode.  It was time to do fall cleaning and prepare for holiday decorating.  Suddenly I was very happy to have thousands less square footage as I had more than enough to clean and declutter.  I was content to live in my own community.  Now two weeks later I grieve for those very people I had recently envied.  Their homes were consumed by a fire that cared little for their grandeur.  Now, instead of needed my admiration for their magnificent lives, they needed assistance from ordinary people like me.

 

Farther north another wildfire raged and a family with a one-year-old toddler had to leave everything and evacuate.  As they sat far away from the fire that leveled much of their hometown of Paradise, they understandably wondered if their home was now a pile of ashes.  Suddenly they received a Face Book message from a stranger asking about their address in Paradise.  An ambulance loaded with patients had been stuck in the town of Paradise.  The nurses and patients had sought refuge in this family’s garage.  The Borden family home had provided protection from the raging fire which created a community of those rescued and this family.

 

Community is not just a geographical location and through organizations like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and others, we can create our own community and be super heroes.  “America is made of different races and different religions, but we’re all co-travelers on the spaceship Earth and must respect and help each other along the way.”

 

Stan Lee once said that the greatest super power is the ability to help another.  Today we have the opportunity to help our community by rendering aid to those devastated by these wildfires.  We also need to look ahead and enact policies that will reduce such in the future.  We cannot control Mother Nature; she is a super character in her own right.  We can, however, plan, prepare, and protect for future generations. 

 

“It’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race – to despise an entire nation – to vilify an entire religion….There is only one who is all powerful, and his greatest weapon is love…. We all wish we had superpowers.  We all wish we could more than we can do.”  We can do something, however, and we should.  “Life is never completely without its challenges. … The power of prayer is still the greatest ever known in this endless eternal universe.”

 

There has always been much discussion about the afterlife but perhaps we need to focus on the community of the here and now.  When we insist on derisiveness and division rather than building community, then we lose not only today’s communities but the chance for those of tomorrow.  We need to be the super heroes of today and offer whatever aid we can to our fellow man.  This is how we grow a community, even one that appears to have been lost.  After all, things are only lost when we stop giving them value.  As long as we value community, we will create it.  Then we will all be super heroes.  

 

 

 

 

Growing a New Day

Growing a New Day

2018.11.07-8

Growing Community

 

As I often do, before beginning this series I did some research into the word “community”.  The dictionary is the best starting point and yet, in this case, I found it outdated – and I researched ten different dictionaries.  Perhaps that is one reason we are, in the 21st century, having such a difficult time growing community.  We haven’t updated our definition of the word to fit the world in which we now reside.

 

One can debate the pros and cons of social media from sunrise to sunset but only a fool would try to deny its existence.  Someone wanting to know the business hours of a retail, medical, or even religious facility no longer opens the telephone directory or newspaper to locate such.  Today the Internet is the place to find answers and information.  Any business or organization that fails to have on online presence is effectively operating in the dark with no way for its audience to find it.

 

The most common definition I found for the word community was “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often has a common cultural and historical heritage.”  The problem with this outdated definition is that today a community is more likely composed of members with difference cultural and historical heritage and most definitely multiples religious and spiritual beliefs.  In the 21st century, our neighborhoods are not just around the block but also online.  That one fact has expanded each person’s community to include people from other cultures, ethnic heritages, and, most importantly, varied life experiences. 

 

As we seek to grow our community, we have to be open to differing opinions, ways of operating, varied clothing.  We no longer have communities where everyone eats the same thing on Tuesday nights or prepares chicken soup exactly the same way.  As our personal space has decreased with the increase in the human population on this planet, our ability to learn and experience different cultures has increased.  With three quick clicks of a computer mouse or keystroke, one has access to multiple ways of cooking meatloaf or a meatless loaf.

 

There are funerals every day on this planet and yet, the one funeral we all need to attend we haven’t.  We need to bury yesterday and let the “status quo” rest in peace.  Today is a new day and we need to embrace it, not fear it.  Change is inevitable as is evolution.  Despite what certain pundits would have you believe, evolution is not a nasty word.  It means growth – nothing more.  Our sense of community needs to evolve as well.

 

A popular advertisement likes to claim it is not genetically modified and yet, its main ingredient, wheat, has been genetically modified by Mother Nature and mankind throughout the history of agriculture.  The origin of wheat is traced by archaeological evidence to 15,000 BCE from the regions we today call Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, and Iraq – an area better known as the Fertile Crescent.  This area experienced great climate change with various Ice Ages and vegetation normally used for food became scarce.  Those living in the area had to seek the seeds from the plants growing in higher elevation, plants previously considered weeds.  Once gathered, these seeds were cultivated and became a basic food source which later figured prominently in many religious ceremonies and beliefs.  The seeds had to adapt to a different growing environment and mankind learned various uses for them.  From a staple grain cereal to the basis for liquid refreshment, wheat has gone from being a weed to a prominent role in the diet of the human race.

 

The ballots are being tallied and after Tuesday’s vote in the USA, a picture is beginning to form as to what new day will be the face of tomorrow.  Some will lament over what was not accomplished while others will spend their time bragging.  Neither will be productive, though, unless it leads to growth.  Change is how the world and each of us in it prepare for tomorrow.  We grow, we increase our knowledge, skills, and abilities, we provide for the future by our evolution. 

 

Community is perhaps best defined as “relationship”.  When we are in community, we have acknowledged a rapport with each other.  We accept we are in many ways connected and are, at the same time, different.  We are linked by our presence on this planet and perhaps by species but more importantly, we acknowledge and value each other, creating a liaison that will link to a brighter and more productive future. In this affiliation, we will grow not only a new day but also a new world, brighter in its being with hope for peace and better living for all. 

 

 

Voting – A Stated Commitment

A Stated Commitment

2018.11.04-06

Growing a Community

 

In the United States, voting is not a right, but a privilege granted or withheld at the discretion of local and state governments. The US Constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination in granting the franchise based on a person’s race, sex, or (adult) age via the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments.  Sound confusing?  It can be.

 

Eligibility to vote in the United States is established both through the federal constitution and by state law. Several constitutional amendments (the 15th, 19th, and 26th specifically) require that voting rights cannot be abridged on account of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, or age for those above 18; the constitution as originally written did not establish any such rights during 1787–1870. In the absence of a specific federal law or constitutional provision, each state is given considerable discretion to establish qualifications for suffrage and candidacy within its own respective jurisdiction; in addition, states and lower level jurisdictions establish election systems, such as at-large or single member district elections for county councils or school boards.

 

When someone votes, they are making a commitment, indicating a choice not only for a candidate but for the rhetoric said candidate has stated.  They are laying the groundwork of a future world, growing a community that will function for the length of the term of said candidate. Failure to vote means you are giving thousands of unknown people control over your life.

 

We all at some point in time feel our vote will not matter much.  Every time I have voted I have known at least one other person whose vote probably cancelled mine out because we were not voting for the same thing.  Was it fruitless for me to vote?  I don’t think so.

 

Whenever I vote, I am taking a stand for what I believe in and making an effort to create a better world.  Voting is not easy.  It would be much simpler if I had a crystal ball but alas, I have the same looking glass as everyone else.  The only thing it shows me is a frazzled, worried person whose future is unknown.  Today, though, I will see someone who is making an effort.  My mirror will not show me the future but it will show me someone whose is trying to construct a better future and grow a healthy community.

 

There have been times I was supremely confident in the candidate for whom I voted, only to be disappointed at their performance.  Like I said, voting is not easy.  It requires thinking outside of myself.  In growing a community, it cannot be just about me.  Whenever I vote, I have to think of the greater good.  I am voting to effect the future and that future is for everyone – those I like and those I am not that fond of; those who believe as I do and those who do not; those who look like me and those who are very different.  Throughout history civilizations have fought for the right to govern themselves and that is the reason we vote.

 

Today I will go to the polls and plant the seeds to grow a community for tomorrow.  I have this right because of the millions who have come before me, who risked their lives and often died in giving me this right.  Around 500 BCE the Greek City-State Athens adopted Democracy and other City-States soon followed their model of a government run by the people. But there were requirements for a person to vote.  27 BCE Roman Republic, which had come into existence somewhere around 509 BCE, ended in civil war and was replaced by a triumvirate; it was followed by the Roman Empire.  Corsican Republic was the first nation to allow universal voting for all citizens over the age of 215 years in the period 1755-1769.  In 1776 the United States of America declared itself to be a democratic republic and fought for independence from England.  In 1895 New Zealand awarded voting rights for all and in 2005 The Iraqi people were able to vote for an independent government.

 

The results of voting are not ironclad and offer no guarantees of a fantastic future.  What they do show, though, is that people care and are willing to take a stand.  When someone votes, they make a commitment and, in many countries around the world, do so knowing they put their lives at stake.

 

In 2016, Sharon Salzberg, a contributor for the Huffington Post, compared voting to spirituality.  “It’s about recognizing voting as an immense form of freedom we’re given; we have the choice to participate in the outcome of our lives, the lives of others, and the country as a whole. Each of our influences on any outcome may be incremental, but it exists, and is a critical component of change. In that way, each one of our choices to step up and take action has immense impact—on each other, and on our world’s future.”

Life is about much more than the individual.  The future depends on our ability to grow a community for everyone.  Voting is a spiritual move about belief in the possibility of a better tomorrow.

 

 

Key to Success

Key to Success

2018.09.26

The Creative Soul

 

I remember applying for a job once to teach the general population about better parenting.  The interview went along as I had expected.  I was asked about my training, my work experience, and then I was asked how I would market the program.  As I sought to quickly gather my thoughts to respond, the interviewer smiled and handed me three blank sheets of paper.  “Here is some paper.  Develop a marketing outline and then draw up a brochure.  We’ll be back.”  Never has a blank piece of paper – the semblance of nothing – seemed so threatening.

 

Albert Einstein felt the key to his success was imagination:  “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”  Most writers know the terror of facing a blank piece of paper but so do others in the artistic community, whether it is a blank canvas, a blank piece of sheet music, an empty stage, or a simple block of stone or clay.  Is it possible to teach ourselves how to be creative or is it simply something we are born with, that thing that keeps our mental state from staying focused on the mundane?

 

Research shows that children encouraged by their parents to participate in pretend games and role playing tend to have higher levels of fantasy as adults.  Are they the only ones who can become great artists?  Is it possible to train creativity or encourage a creative imagination?  The answer to those questions depends on what you are calling creativity but basically, the answer is yes. 

 

Research seems to imply that our environment can boost creativity and, like many old adages say, hard work can also pay off in becoming more creative.  Behavior is also contagious and when we engage with creative content or watch someone else be highly creative, it can rub off on us and we ourselves increase our own creativity.

 

Research has shown that there are two phases to creative thinking – divergent thinking and convergent thinking.  Divergent thinking is the ability to think of a wide variety of options or ideas, all connected to a main problem or topic.  Such thinking is supported by intuitive thinking, a fast, automatic mental response to a problem or dilemma.  Convergent thinking then helps us evaluate those ideas or options for their usefulness, feasibility, etc.  This involves analytical thinking, a deliberate, focused thought process which ultimately and hopefully allows us to select the correct option or idea to employ.

 

We all use creativity every day in solving routine problems.  For instance, you are making a vegetable soup out of left-overs and suddenly your sibling drops in to surprise everyone.  You can add some broth or water to the soup to have more servings.  This is a creative response.  OR you get all dressed up for a fall day in a nice button-down cardigan, shirt, and slacks when someone on your commute bumps into you, spilling your coffee on your shirt.  You stop by the restroom on the way to your office and remove your shirt, buttoning up the cardigan and wearing it as a sweater top instead of just a jacket.  This is another creative solution.

 

Not all creative imagination needs to compose an opera or paint the ceiling of a grand cathedral.  Research indicates that the first thing we can do in becoming a grand master of creative output is to immerse ourselves in creative experiences.  Exposure to the arts and putting out some effort are important first steps to creative success.  Sadly, it is less about having a muse and more about putting in the effort.  Famed scientist Louis Pasteur knew the answer when he said “Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

 

We have spoken about this before but I think it bears repeating.  Anyone can be an artist.  Not everyone can be a Michelangelo or Andrew Lloyd Webber but we all have the potential to be an artist.  The process is vital in becoming creative and should be emphasized rather than just concentrating on the end result – the goal of a masterpiece.  The journey you travel in becoming creative is far more important – the play, the practice, the exposure; these are all the keys to successful creativity and enjoying the creative life.

 

My Favorite Canvas

My Favorite Canvas

2018.09.20-21

The Creative Soul

 

There is a very good likelihood that you have never heard of Suffolk, VA, even though it is, by land area, the largest city in the Commonwealth (state) of Virginia and Fourteenth largest in the country.  Earlier this week the local paper features an article by Alex Perry which read:  “Families, children and others with an artistic itch will have the opportunity to spend an evening with a paintbrush in downtown Suffolk this weekend.  Suffolk Tourism is partnering with Paint Me Purple Studios for “A Night Under the Stars” paint party at 7 p.m. Friday at the Suffolk Visitor Center, 524 N. Main St. Space is limited and advance reservations are required on Thursday at the latest, with about 20 spots left as of Tuesday, according to Visitor Center Supervisor Kevin Sary.  Participants will use provided painting materials to do their own rendition of “The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh with careful instruction by Kim Ellis, owner of Paint Me Purple Studios. They’ll also enjoy some tasty star-themed treats during the 90 or so minutes they’ll have to complete their paintings under the night sky.”

 

I do not live in Suffolk and have only briefly passed through there once in my life.  However, I would love to be there this weekend.  Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” is one of my all-time favorite paintings.  Van Gogh is a perfect answer to those who say “I cannot be creative” or “I have no talent” because he defied all the odds and left the world with a beautiful portfolio of creativity.  The following is from the MoMA website on Van Gogh.

 

Vincent van Gogh: Emotion, Vision, and A Singular Style

“Mention Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890) and one of the first things likely to come to many people’s minds is the fact that he cut off his own ear. This stark act, committed in 1888, marked the beginning of the depression that would plague him until the end of his life. But to know van Gogh is to get past the caricature of the tortured, misunderstood artist and to become acquainted instead with the hardworking, deeply religious, and difficult man. Van Gogh found his place in art and produced emotional, visually arresting paintings over the course of a career that lasted only a decade.

“Largely self-taught, van Gogh produced more than 2,000 oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and sketches, which became in demand only after his death. He also wrote scores of letters, especially to his brother Theo, in which he worked out his thoughts about art. “Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better,” he wrote in 1874. “Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.”

“It was nature, and the people living closely to it, that first stirred van Gogh’s artistic inclinations. In this he was not alone. Landscapes remained a popular subject in late-nineteenth-century art. Driven in part by their dissatisfaction with the modern city, many artists sought out places resembling earthly paradises, where they could observe nature firsthand, feeding its psychological and spiritual resonances into their work. Van Gogh was particularly taken with the peasants he saw working the countryside; his early compositions featured portraits of Dutch peasants and rural landscapes, rendered in dark, moody tones.

“In 1886, van Gogh moved to Paris, where he encountered the works of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists, and the Pointillist compositions of Georges Seurat. Inspired by these artists’ harmonious matching of colors, shorter brushstrokes, and liberal use of paint, he brightened his own palette and loosened his brushwork, emphasizing the physical application of paint on the canvas. The style he developed in Paris and carried through to the end of his life became known as Post-Impressionism, a term encompassing works made by artists unified by their interest in expressing their emotional and psychological responses to the world through bold colors and expressive, often symbolic images. In a letter to his sister Willemien, touching upon the mind and temperament of artists, van Gogh once wrote that he was “very sensitive to color and its particular language, its effects of complementaries, contrasts, harmony.”

“By 1888, van Gogh had returned to the French countryside, where he would remain until his death. There, close once again to the peasants who had inspired him early on, he concentrated on painting landscapes, portraits (of himself and others), domestic interiors, and still lifes full of personal symbolism.

 

Observation and Imagination in The Starry Night (1889)

“This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,” wrote van Gogh to his brother Theo, describing his inspiration for one of his best-known paintings, The Starry Night (1889).3 The window to which he refers was in the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France, where he sought respite from his emotional suffering while continuing to make art.

“This mid-scale, oil-on-canvas painting is dominated by a moon- and star-filled night sky. It takes up three-quarters of the picture plane and appears turbulent, even agitated, with intensely swirling patterns that seem to roll across its surface like waves. It is pocked with bright orbs—including the crescent moon to the far right, and Venus, the morning star, to the left of center—surrounded by concentric circles of radiant white and yellow light.

“Beneath this expressive sky sits a hushed village of humble houses surrounding a church, whose steeple rises sharply above the undulating blue-black mountains in the background. A cypress tree sits at the foreground of this night scene. Flame-like, it reaches almost to the top edge of the canvas, serving as a visual link between land and sky. Considered symbolically, the cypress could be seen as a bridge between life, as represented by the earth, and death, as represented by the sky, commonly associated with heaven. Cypresses were also regarded as trees of the graveyard and mourning. “But the sight of the stars always makes me dream,” van Gogh once wrote. “Why, I say to myself, should the spots of light in the firmament be less accessible to us than the black spots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to go to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to go to a star.”

“The Starry Night is based on van Gogh’s direct observations as well as his imagination, memories, and emotions. The steeple of the church, for example, resembles those common in his native Holland, not in France. The whirling forms in the sky, on the other hand, match published astronomical observations of clouds of dust and gas known as nebulae. At once balanced and expressive, the composition is structured by his ordered placement of the cypress, steeple, and central nebulae, while his countless short brushstrokes and thickly applied paint set its surface in roiling motion. Such a combination of visual contrasts was generated by an artist who found beauty and interest in the night, which, for him, was “much more alive and richly colored than the day.”

 

It is reported that in a letter to his brother Theo, van Gogh wrote passionately about painting a scene as he experienced, imagined, and, ultimately, interpreted it, not as it was expected to be rendered. Comparing painting to playing music, he argued: “We painters are always asked to compose ourselves and to be nothing but composers. Very well – but in music it isn’t so; in music, a composer’s interpretation is something.”

 

Whatever you draw is a creation, just as whatever you play is music and whatever you write is either poetry or prose.  You have created something.  You engaged in a creative process and you were creative.  Your soul gained value from that.  Whether or not someone else decided it had value does not negate your creative efforts.  You were creative and your creative interpretation is, to quote Can Gogh, “something”. 

To Be Creative

To Be Creative

2018.09.07-08

 

Albert Einstein once credited his intelligence to his creative spirit.  What exactly do we mean when we say someone is creative?  Are they overly imaginative?  Do they think “outside the box”?  In an online journal, “The Journal of Effective Teaching”, Jose Gomez discussed the various connotations and definitions of the term “creativity”.  Designed to assist educators in developing a student’s creativity, Gomez’s abstract brings up some very interesting correlations between intelligence, divergent thinking, convergent thinking, reflective thinking, and the different ways we accept or reject creativity.

 

It is nearly impossible to find an all-inclusive definition of the word “creativity”.  New World Encyclopedia defines it as a process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts, and their substantiation into a product that has novelty and originality. From a scientific point of view, the products of creative thought (sometimes referred to as divergent thought) are usually considered to have both “originality” and “appropriateness.”  Wikipedia states it more simply: Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.

 

We must also include the fact that creativity is considered differently based upon the situation or discipline in which it is found.  In education creativity is considered to be innovative while in business it is referred to as entrepreneurship.  In mathematics it is simply problem-solving but in music it is either performance or composition.  The World Conference on Higher Education proclaimed Creativity as “an innovative education approach” in their statement of Missions and Functions in Higher Education. 

 

In his article Gomez refers to the fact that the literature on creativity is sparse, but it is becoming apparent that there may be several kinds of creativity. Donald N. MacKinnon outlined three different kinds of creativity used as a basis for research at the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research Laboratory (IPAR), Berkeley, California. The first is artistic creativity, which reflects the creator’s inner needs, perceptions and motivations. The second type is scientific and technological creativity, which deals with some problem of the environment and results in novel solutions but exhibits little of the inventor’s personality. The third type is hybrid creativity, found in such fields as architecture that exhibits both a novel problem solution and the personality of the creator.

 

In studying creativity, the IPAR group, along with most other research groups that have investigated this process, have assumed that all kinds of creativity share common characteristics, and these assumptions seem to be true. It appears that most creative persons are relatively uninterested in small details or facts for their own sake; that they are more concerned with meaning and implications. Creative people have considerable cognitive flexibility, communicate easily, are intellectually curious, and tend to let their impulses flow freely.

 

It was generally assumed that creativity and intelligence were closely related.  However, the incidence of highly creative individuals, such as Edison, Churchill and Einstein, who at some time experienced difficulty in school, led to a closer examination of the issue during the 1960s. One of the most widely publicized studies was done by Getzels and Jackson (1992), who produced evidence that creativity and intelligence were largely independent traits.  On the other hand, just a few years later Hasan and Butcher(1996) found creativity and intelligence so highly correlated that they were almost indistinguishable.  The subject remains controversial today.  Perhaps the most prevailing view today is that beyond a minimum level of intelligence necessary for mastery in a given field, additional intelligence offers no guarantee of a corresponding increase in creativity.  OF course, since most intelligence tests only test for convergent thinking, we may never really know the relationship between intelligence and creativity.  Usually, there is only one correct answer, and correctness is determined on the basis of logic, rules, or laws. However, even the best known creativity tests are somewhat invalid because of the subjective nature of the elements they measure and the lack of any predetermined right answer.

 

What exactly is convergent thinking?   Convergent thinking emphasizes reproduction of existing data and adaptation of old responses to new situations in a more or less logical manner while divergent thinking is characterized by flexibility and originality in the production of new ideas. Convergent thinking is characterized by the reproduction of known concepts and the adoption of known responses to new situations. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, involves fluency, flexibility, and originality, and is essentially concerned with production of large numbers of new ideas.

 

Perhaps Einstein, Churchill and others had difficulty in school because institutional classrooms seldom allow for flexibility or creative approaches.  The teacher gives a test and said test is graded based upon the answer key with only one set of choices for the correct answers.   An idea is creative when it brings a new insight to a given situation. The process of creativity includes the ability to change one’s approach to a problem, to produce ideas that are both relevant and unusual, to see beyond the immediate situation, and to redefine the problem or some aspect of it.  The standard test does not allow for a creative response.  In addition, there is the myth that to the truly creative and talented, their skill comes naturally, and the creative works they produce come with ease. However, the evidence shows that the creative experience only comes after considerable effort and time has been put into the creative work.

 

Reflective thinking and evaluation of thoughts are, as we mentioned yesterday in the two creative process models discussed, basic to the process of creativity.  Ideas are best when evaluated for the purpose of facilitating the problem-solving process at every step.  However, continuous evaluation limits the generation of ideas. A suspension of judgment enables one to further examine seemingly wild or impossible ideas.  Wrong ideas may be right in the final analysis. Emphasis shifts from the validity of a particular point to its usefulness in producing new arrangements or patterns.

 

Gomez lists basic attributes of the creative person but I think they could also be considered steps in the creative process.  They include originality, persistence, independence, involvement and detachment, deferment and immediacy, incubation, verification, discovery of problems, generation of alternatives, the challenging of basic assumptions, and minimizing labels and/or categories.

 

Gomez also lists strategies for encouraging creative thinking.  They include the most obvious – make a start.  He also lists taking notes as not only effective but also necessary for not only observing the world around you but also making note of various ideas as they come.  A surprising strategy involves making deadlines.  Deadlines are often considered the killer of a creative spirit but Gomez feels the creative soul should use them to do the necessary daily routines we all have more efficiently.  That in turn frees up more time for creativity and encourages the self-discipline needed in accomplishing goals.  To this end Gomez also advises to “fix a time and place” to lure one’s muse out.  While this may sound far-fetched it is very similar to the bedtime routines we employ to tell our brain it is time to turn off and go to sleep.  One cannot schedule a masterpiece of thought to happen, perhaps, but we can create an environment that encourages creative thought, relaxation and a safe environment for exploration of said creativity.

 

Linda Naiman, founder of Creativity at Work sums it up best:  “If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.”  In their 1999 annual report the Hewlett Packard Company established their basic rules for a culture of creativity and innovation:  “Believe you can change the world.  Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever.  Know when to work alone and when to work together.  Share – tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues.  No politics. No bureaucracy.  The customer defines a job well done.  Radical ideas are not bad ideas.  Invent different ways of working.  Make a contribution every day.  Believe that together we can do anything.  Invent.”

 

I firmly believe that when we throw the labels and criticism of the past away, anyone can develop their creative side.  Someday science will determine the genes that are creative and we will discover that we all have the ability to be creative if we will just take the time and have the courage to develop it.