Nurturing Creativity, part 1

Posted by Sarah Jane on November 30, 2009

I’ve been thinking recently that it’s not enough for a community simply to acknowledge and embrace the diverse gifts brought by its various members — that the community also has an obligation to seek out and discover the as-yet-unknown gifts of its various members, and then to intentionally create opportunities for those gifts to be shared and celebrated.

We already know how to do this; we do it all the time with our children and teenagers — encouraging them to try music, athletics, church groups, etc. until they find something they enjoy and want to pursue. And we work hard to celebrate the results: watching their concerts and ball games, listening to them sing in church, showing off their artwork on the refrigerator. We put forth a lot of effort figuring out ways to nurture and support their budding talents, and our kids reap the benefits as both their abilities and their confidence soar.

And yet, once those children and teenagers turn into thirty-somethings or fifty-somethings, that encouragement evaporates. You want to run a triathlon, design clothing, or write a children’s book? We listen politely but without enthusiasm, and then carelessly dismiss these budding passions — what interesting hobbies! it’s great you’re enjoying them so much. And so we reduce a neighbor’s beautiful hand-made quilt to a mere diversion, and a friend’s excellent home-brewed beer to an idling pastime.

We fail to recognize that the whole community is enriched by this outpouring of creativity — that the trifling hobbies we casually dismiss are producing a wealth of good things that benefit all of us. As a result, we do not honor them as we should. We do not encourage our neighbors to pursue their creativity with passion and focus. We do not actively seek out and create opportunities for their talents to be showcased, appreciated, celebrated. And so our gloriously creative artists and gardeners and cheese-makers slowly come to believe that their talents are no more than selfish diversions — and all too often lay them aside in favor of more “practical” service to their families and communities.

We are all poorer as a result.


6 Responses to “Nurturing Creativity, part 1”

  1. arlijohn said

    Wow, this is a really good message. I get tired of telling people I am a quilter and then being dismissed. My work and designs are my own, they come from me. Is that not then creative?

  2. hgray said

    Your first paragraph embodies why I want to pursue a career in community development. Many times we overlook the things that can be used as assets, and degrade ourselves for not being something bigger or better. However, in actuality it is the best that we are different because it is in that difference that we find a true value.

  3. Queue said

    We really do need to encourage people to “find their joy” as it were. Especially if their joys are cheese or beer. Just sayin’.

    But seriously, I’m with you on this one. Without avid gardeners all of our tomatoes would come from the store and be pale and flavorless. I can think of tons of other examples, but flavorless tomatoes is probably the epitome of awful and sad for me.

  4. […] Walters Sarah Jane, who often comments on this site, has an insightful post entitled “Nurturing Creativity, Part 1,” in which she discusses how we encourage young people to try various activities until they […]

  5. Kate said

    As a corollary to this, I also often hear people try to put a monetary value on personal passions. “This toffee is great! Why don’t you try selling some?” “Your hand-knitted socks are beautiful, but isn’t it cheaper to buy them from the store?” “What use is it to read fiction?” Sometimes people assume that because something is not useful it therefore has no value; gardening is only useful if you save more on the grocery bill than you spent on the seeds. This monetary state of mind devalues the enjoyment and pleasure a person gets from doing something s/he enjoys simply because s/he enjoys it. I may no longer have the drive to be a great concert pianist, but perhaps I shouldn’t be so hesitant to play again just because I haven’t played a scale in too many years. We often drop pastimes in our adolescence due to lack of time- maybe now is a good time to bring those old beloved things back out, or to try new ones- I should start dancing again, Ben should keep playing his guitar more regularly because he enjoys it. This sort of thing is unfortunately rather endemic to our society- the local fencing lessons at the YMCA are only for those under 18. Personal enrichment that has no immediate return is strongly underappreciated, and perhaps it is our responsibility as a community to foster an environment in which we feel welcome to pursue our passions, no matter how mundane or un-useful.

  6. Sarah Jane said

    Excellent points, Kate — thank you. I have so many things I’d like to say in response that it makes more sense to take it up in a future post. Soonly, I promise!

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