Imagine a cold starry night with a group huddled around a fire at the mouth of the cave hoping against hope that no giant wolf or saber tooth tiger will drag one of them off. There's Bor, Mig, his lovely wife; and the kids, Doh, Raquel and Nerd, the weird one, who is rubbing a stick against the wall of the cave, just below the sketches of bison he had just completed with a piece of charcoal. (Yes, that's where the term "nerd" came from.)
Anyway, our little family is about to enjoy dinner together, a ritual they observe religiously. (They had that part right, even way back then.) For the umpteenth time, Bor reaches into the fire to drag out a piece of meat and for the umpteenth time, he burns himself and yells out a painful Neanderthal curse. (In that regard, things haven't changed that much in 30,000 years, I guess.)
A few minutes later, Nerd appears with his sharpened stick and retrieves a piece of mastodon tenderloin (medium rare) from the fire unscathed. The rest of the family stares in awe. Nerd is now considered a genius, a creative genius, the Edison of his day, perhaps. I figure Nerd soon developed the forked stick, which was even more efficient than his original invention. And from that has sprung every manner of eating and cooking utensil in creative evolution over the millennia. To this day, it's a rare week that we don't get a catalog with yet another creative permutation of Nerd's original idea.
So, what all does the word "creativity" bring to mind for you? Symphonies? Dance? Literature? Architecture? Painting? Poetry? Schizophrenia? Entrepreneurship?
Think about it and just that act of thinking about it is a creative process, isn't it?!
By now you've probably re-read the list of creative possibilities and wondered about the next-to-the-last one. Schizophrenia? A CREATIVE process?
Let's consider some examples of creativity.
A scenario from experience a few years ago; a professional trumpeter was at a party I attended. It was an "open mic" format and many of us did a little act. A garage band, a jazz/blues band, showed up and there was a young trumpeter, a high school junior in the group. The pro sat in and coached his new protege through "Eight Bar Blues." He helped him with his improvisation. The kid's solo was very good. There was no music, he heard the riff in his head and played it. (He found his groove, as the saying goes.)
Another scenario: a different high school junior comes home with a bad report card. His parents ask him about it and he tells them a long semi-coherent story about how the principal and his teachers asked him to become involved in a network of drug smuggling in the school and when he refused, they punished him with bad grades. He adds: "That's all I hear all day long now, that constant mumbling they're talking about me all the time, I even hear it right now!"
What's the difference between the two stories? Is one of the processes more or less creative than the other? Obviously, the music is "real" but is the second one "unreal"? Not to the kid who told it, it isn't. To him it's just as real as the music. I don't think anyone ever said a thought was unreal.
You might think it's a little "out there" to call that second story "creative" in the same sense as the other one. But stop and think about how much of our mental and emotional world we create. Do you know people who are basically happy? They see the glass as half full. Their behavior actually creates a happy environment for others. They get along with people important to them. They deal with routine aches and pains pretty well. When things go wrong, they have strategies to fix them. At the other extreme are the grumps. The glass isn't just half empty, it's dirty, and cracked, and ugly. The environment they create is so miserable that people avoid them. They suffer and have no idea they can improve things. Suppose that negative person has a run of bad luck and some serious stress in addition to the bad attitude. How would they respond? Stress and anxiety produce changes in the body and the mind and those people could create for themselves every misery from fibromyalgia to clinical depression, to psychoses.
"WAIT!" you might say: "I thought depression and schizophrenia and mental illnesses are caused by changes in brain chemistry!" It might well be that a person with those struggles has some different neuro-chemical things happening, but like the old chicken-and-egg story, do we know for sure which caused which?
What if a choosing a bad attitude, not knowing how to deal with stress, isolation from those we'd like to be close, and other elements of unhappiness are CAUSING or even just contributing to the aches and pains, the depression, or the distorted reality?
Anyone notice how I snuck the work "choosing" into that last question? That was on purpose. Suppose people choose to take the more positive approach described above? Suppose everyone decided to celebrate all the good stuff that happens every day? Suppose people learned guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation to help control stress? Suppose people chose to eliminate some of the attitudes that make others avoid them? Suppose people chose to focus their creative ability on these things instead of the more miserable alternatives? Makes you wonder, doesn't it, how much of the pain and suffering people create for themselves would go away?
Nerd, the caveboy genius; the high school musician; the young man with some distortion of reality; the optimist; and the pessimist are all creative and so are you. The question is; what are you going to create next?
Gary Lester, M.S., is the executive director of Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that provides counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups.