Creativity is a difficult area for discussion to say the very least. It involves too many myths and legends about its purpose, its origins, and its place in our world. It is a subject matter that is a constant contradiction. It can be both awe inspiring and respected in as much as it is unvalued and trivialized. Companies are calling for more creative solutions yet our educational system is busy removing it from access. Our institutions prize conformity yet will hire persons on the fringe socially who are highly creative to spur profitability. Our society demands being “just like everyone else” but then celebrates the creative, the unusual, and inventive if they can make money from it .
So with that kind of friction taking place, creativity is a scene of constant battle, hype, and misunderstanding by all involved. There has been study upon studies all done on creativity by the economic sectors, religious institutions, governmental agencies, and academic centers. They are available for the asking, but little is done with this mountain of data that virtually sits unused. Why?
I believe this has to do with the way in which our society functions. You really have to take a look at what brought this all about. (Now before we start this journey let me first state that this is not a blame game but rather a quest to find the source of influence(s) that started the ball rolling.) You see with any problem there is a point at which an error was made. When you find the source of the error, you then can begin to unravel the series of events that have led you to the particular situation that you are in. It is then a matter of the old axiom of keeping what works and then getting rid of what does not. We are all a part of the problem so with that we all need to be a part of the solution. None of us has a corner on the market for being absolutely right, partially right or even close to be nearly right. If we look at it in the proper light, it will tell us that we are all interconnected and are a part of the bigger picture.
The major influence of our age has been the industrial revolution. It has changed the way we look at everything in our lives. This has shifted our focus from the achievement of producing one quality object to being able to produce goods inexpensively for mass consumption. It has taken uniqueness out of the equation and put in its place the readily replaceable. This has had a tremendous influence on our way of thinking. It has changed the way we measure ourselves and others. It has changed the context of the individual in society. It has affected all the aspects of human existence from the arts, the sciences, philosophy, politics, ethics, religion and education.
The Industrial Revolution did make more products available to more people by being able to centralize means of production for easy replication. It made goods more affordable to a broader base and has led to great advancements in health and the standard of living for some. But there is a price to pay for this because at the same time it did something to how we see each other. It changed the psychology of how we see the individual – not as human beings, but as parts of a human machine. It took us from being individual craftsman and workers to become part of a flesh colored assembly line.
With that new perspective parts were needed that could be easily replaced and replicated. You did not need a host of individuals who could think and make. Thinking was un-necessary or extremely limited on the production line. All you had to do was perform a desired task to produce a desired result. Thinking beyond the immediate task at hand was not needed nor encouraged. Basic skills of reading, writing, and math were all that were required to track and report what you produced. Thought was not valued, welcomed or required. Regurgitation of production information was all that was required. We went from skilled craftsman who designed and made a complete product, to someone who placed a part on a product and performed a job – a task. These ideas are even present in farming which has become an agri-business and commodities producers.
If you look up the word job it is not a very positive item. Webster’s Dictionary tells us the origin of the word comes from the old English word that meant lump. A lump by definition is “1: a piece or mass of indefinite size and shape 2 a. aggregate, totality <taken in the lump> b: majority 3: protuberance: an abnormal swelling 4: a person who is heavy and awkward ; also : one who is stupid or dull”. This is the root of the meaning of the word job. Yet we have turned this word job into the definition of our lives. .
When you look at what evolved into the word job the definition doesn’t get much better. It takes a distinctive nose dive into the abyss from there. The first is “a piece of work; especially: a small piece of work undertaken on order at a stated rate”. There is nothing to indicate that this is a creative effort. It is something that is simply done without thought but mere reaction to an order. This is not something that we would normally want (when given thought to) to aspire to, yet here it is. This is what we do. We go to our jobs everyday. Most of us do not go to work we go to a job. Work and job have become interchangeable in our society. This is not the truth of what work is supposed to be or mean.
When we went to work it was different. Even the definition is different: “1:activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something: a: sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result b: the labor, task, or duty that is one’s accustomed means of livelihood c :a specific task, duty, function, or assignment often being a part or phase of some larger activity”. This shows the involvement of the total being – not only physically but mentally. This is in sharp contrast to what a job is. A job is something to get done not necessarily to be involved in. It is the effect of some undefined effort to get an order done. It then becomes an issue of not what you are doing but how much you have done. Quality has become interchangeable with quantity. This is evident in our fast food society where “super-sizing” is the key. It is the attitude of a person who is little more than a machine and therefore the job is de-humanizing.
This de-humanization is widespread. It has become apart of our language, and our thought patterns, as well as our reactions. We are no longer human beings but human doings. Thus our lives become a series of events and patterns that we no longer have control over.
“The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots. True enough, robots do not rebel. But given man’s nature, robots cannot live and remain sane, they become “Golems,” they will destroy their world and themselves because they cannot stand any longer the boredom of a meaningless life.” Erich Fromm – The Sane Society
(A Golem is a being that is created from the mud that has just enough mind to follow instructions exactly as they are stated.)
To further illustrate the point, take a look at the concept of the assembly line, a major portion of the industrial revolution. Previously a series of workers would put together a product growing in skills and capabilities. As you arose through the skill levels of apprentice, to journeyman, to craftsman, you assumed more and more responsibility for the product and its eventual outcome. You were involved with the total aspect of what was being produced. The skill that was acquired had a reciprocating value. The individual added value to the skill in as much as the skill added value to the individual.
With the assembly line this is no longer the case. You may never get to assemble the entire product or know what the product is. Your task is to place one part or series of parts on something that is passed along to another to add their parts to the product. What is required of you is not necessarily your skill but your ability to rapidly put parts on the product. Your position on the line is to function exactly the same way throughout your day. It is a mindless routine. Numbers are the outcome – not quality for each individual. Just as a machine functions you are to function. Just like a machine that becomes too expensive to maintain or no longer functions rapidly, you are replaceable. You are reduced to a machine like function.
Production methods went from the factory floor, to the office complex, health care systems and then into our educational systems. Thought was unnecessary, production and results had taken its place so that we could simply get it done. It is not what you know or how skillfully you made the product, it is what you produce. It is not what you could apply but the results.
Grades were an indicator as to what you might possibly have learned and have become an indicator of how you could succeed in getting a job to produce. This is evident in the schools today. The individual is really not valued. What is valued is the test scores that students produce. Teachers are not really allowed to educate but rather are required to teach to a standard that all must attain to be deemed competent to get a job to produce. These are industrial testing terms to insure that each part is identically functional to a particular purpose.
Teachers are required to teach to the test (as much as everyone says they do not – they do) so that the results can be measured and replicated to produce the desired results for the students to enter the work force. The direction of education is no longer to help the individual attain better understanding to improve the world in which they live. The direction of education is to check off a list of requirements that will produce someone with the ability to fill a position within a large organization for the purpose of producing goods (whether intellectual or physical) – a job. It becomes just another thing to be done. So creativity is not valued. It has a minor role in modern society as that society becomes more mechanized and industrialized.
Now that we have gone beyond the industrial revolution we find ourselves in an age of information where those principles no longer hold value. Therefore, you have large bloated mega-industrial corporations who no longer add value but consume it. They have become obstinate, refusing to change and watch as their world slowly crumbles in front of them. Corporate leaders moan at the lack of creativity of the workers but foster a system that demands duplication, replication, and conformity. These are the very leaders that are in fact the cause of their own demise. Industrialists have created a system of support that can not flex either in goods or in those responsible for the production of their goods – because it was not a part of their culture to do so – it is not their job to do so.
But if you look at the beginnings of corporate rise to mega-industrial giants – the very thing that fueled that incredulous growth – is the very thing that they do not value in their culture. They have confused the machine and tools of production with the means of the existence of those items. They have reduced man to machine rather than elevating the position of man above machine as its causation. They have reversed the roles. That is why these institutions buy innovation rather than make it – then make it conform to their production models. They not only crush the competition in doing so but they crush the very spirit of innovation that would have kept them alive. Their mantra and religion is production at all costs – even to self.
Once you have reversed the roles you negate the very thing that makes all of humanity different from the other creatures of the earth; the ability to be creative; the ability to think, and reason beyond a herd mentality. Uniformity is the very antithesis of human existence which is by nature diverse. Remove diversity and you have extinction. Nature shows us this at every turn. When you limit the gene pool, that part of nature becomes diseased, distorted, and weak. It can no longer produce so it dies out completely.
“Have you ever met an unimaginative five-year old? Probably not. And when you were five, you probably had a dream. Maybe in the still of the night you thought you heard God speaking to you – calling you to a certain type of life and a special kind of work.
So what happened? Well, life happened. Along the way, in our desire to be responsible, practical, and realistic adults, too many of us wildly imaginative kids lost touch with our creative abilities and gave up a commitment to translating our dreams into enjoyable and fulfilling work.” (From the introduction of No More Dreaded Mondays – pages 2-3)
What in fact does this all have to do with creativity? It points us in a direction that begs the questions: what is our purpose and why where we created? This is the elementary question that all humans ask. For most, this leads most to a belief in God.
The very basis of our formative conception of a god is that the god is in fact – creative. In that act of creativity, according to the Judeo Christian take on things, is a part of the image and likeness of God in whom we are supposedly made. Therefore, as logic and definition would have it – we are in fact creative by our very nature. We are by creation to be diverse and creative. The problem is that we do not see God as an active creative being in our world. We no longer see God because we have negated the creative image of God in our lives by destroying our own creativity.
We have created a god in our own image and likeness – void of all creativity, and we have created the means of our own destruction by the elimination of creativity in all of the aspects of our lives. This contradiction is the outcome of trying to put a human being onto an assembly line process for replication. The problem is that a human is not programmable to function in exactly the same way. It is by nature diverse within itself. It learns and considers experience differently from the human next to it. Humanity relates differently to all of its experience not only from position but from influence of that position. Even to continue in the insistence that humanity is nothing more than a high functioning machine is to deny the fact that humanity has all of the aspects of individual thought and assimilation of knowledge according to the design. Therefore, it is impossible, though we continually try, to deny that humanity is creative and must be so
Continuing in that same path of logic and reasoning would then be to say that to deny our creativity – or narrow it down – is to in fact deny God and deny our very nature. In as much as God is love and we are then supposed to be love – God is creative and we are supposed to be creative. This is if we believe in what our scriptures tell us to be true. To deny that is to say the scripture is therefore not true.
The very act of creation is an act of love. If we deny this then the only recourse for us is to have been created by a vindictive and harsh god. Since we believe that God is love, an unconditional love, this can’t be true. But yet we have rendered all scripture contradictory and invalid by removing the very elementary proof that God is love – creativity.
We have been given all the ability by the very divine nature within us to affect the world creatively in love for love. We are not to lord it over the world but in love become creative forces so that the very kingdom of God will be on earth exactly as it is in heaven. If this then is the case, then Christians have an absolute obligation to be creative and imaginative. In the words of Francis A. Schaeffer used in the beginning of his collection of two essays in one volume called “Art and the Bible” – “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.” Unfortunately this is not what we find.
The question is “why not?” and is not easily answered because it is one that has many sources. It would be too easy to point fingers at doctrinal admonitions against musical styles, worship patterns, dance, and ornamentations. But really that has little to do with the totality of creativity. The problem is that we have narrowed down the creative to a small segment of the population. We have intentionally made it a fringe element concerned with what we would call leisure activities and non-essential elements. This has happened over many years and many generations. Historically there have been significant changes that have aided in the marginalizing the creative. My point of experience and reference is from the Christian perspective so that is where I will focus. I will at times refer to other religious, societal and economic factors as I have become aware of some of them.
Christians have abandoned creativity and imagination and in doing so have abandoned the driving force of the universe. Much like the parable of the prodigal son, Christianity has asked for its’ inheritance and has abused and misused it. Christians have become (for the most part) creatively bankrupt. As a whole we have yet to recognize we are feeding ourselves with far less than the animals we tend. Christians do not realize that everything that we do in some shape or another is creative. It is dismissed as nothing special. That is the other problem – failing to recognize the precious gift of creativity in the muck and slop of life. We are the ones that have devalued ourselves (with the help of others who have passed down the wrong thinking). We have thrown away the very thing that was given to us so that we could make life better for ourselves and others.
Creativity is the spark of life. It is how we were created to be. The key to this is revealed in the biblical account of the creation of man. It found in Genesis chapter 1, verse 28 states that God finished creating humanity by giving them specific instructions. God said to be fruitful and multiply. God said to fill the earth and take responsibility for all of the living things of the earth. With that, God gave us the power of creativity. Creativity is a multifaceted tool that enables us to shape the things of earth for all of our benefit. You can’t make use of anything without being creative in some way, shape or form. You have to interact with it in some way. You act upon it and it reacts. That is creativity!