Creativity & Diversity
Exposure to different opinions can stimulate original thought.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with a respected art museum director. While touring a large commercial art fair, he pointed out some paintings he wanted us to see. When I resisted on the grounds that I did not think the artist’s work was very good, he launched into an impassioned lecture about why it was important to look at ‘bad art’, or more simply, to consider those things with which we do not agree.
Many years later, there is good research to support this perspective. While parents know it is important for children to ‘think outside the box’ in order to be successful at school and in the working world, our own habitual ways of thinking and behaving may sometimes get in the way of them developing that ability. Though routine and clear expectations are essential to maintaining a harmonious household, beware of the pitfalls of predictability. There may be times when a little disagreement, and even some constructive criticism, can go a long way towards building those life-long problem-solving skills.
Habit and predictability
Human beings are creatures of habit. As a student it amazed me how attached my colleagues became to their specific seats week after week, even in a lecture hall that held 1,000 people. Recent studies suggest that when faced with an almost infinite number of choices, we quickly establish patterns in our choice-making that maximize reward and minimize cost. This may come in the form of time saved, food enjoyed, physical comfort, and so on.
Consider our daily routines: consistently taking the shortest route home from work; regularly making the same recipe the whole family likes; or choosing clothing combinations that reliably ‘match’, etc. Our brain’s ability to set up routines is its most important function. Life would be impossible without routines.
Because we’re wired to seek pleasure, we often desire familiarity in all we do. Our tendency toward the familiar extends to the neighbourhood we choose, the company we keep – at work or socially – and the opinions we have about everything from politics to the environment. These behaviour patterns may work well for day-to-day travel, food, or dress, but what about their impact on creative thought?
Living a manicured life, where we and everyone around us looks and sounds the same, limits our opportunities for new experiences or realizations. Sometimes habit can become the rut that keeps the innovative wheels from turning. Though we cannot live without plenty of predictability in our everyday lives, consider how it may influence long-term artistic originality or scientific invention when it comes to our kids’ development.
Outside the comfort zone
Anyone who has had a child go through the terrible twos and/or teen stages knows oppositional behaviour is an inevitable, if not always pleasant, part of growing up. In response to these stages, many parenting strategies seek to make children more compliant with adult expectations. Again, for daily interactions around self-care (teeth brushing), wellness (healthy eating), safety (curfew) etc., conformance to rules is beneficial. The flip side of this perspective is the opportunity we have at any stage to foster our child’s capacity for creative thinking by encouraging them to question and yes, even disagree with our adult viewpoint.
There is compelling research to suggest that dissent, or exposure to competing opinions, stimulates our ability to produce original ideas. This was found to be true even when the conflicting responses were incorrect (such as claiming a blue square was actually green). Even more importantly, the permission to criticize and debate supports an atmosphere that yields creativity. Though this does not mean we need to encourage our kids to argue every issue until we want to run away from home, it does suggest that exposing our child to a variety of world views – different people or places – while making space for healthy disagreement, will help them develop those important creative problem-solving skills.
When opportunity knocks
Opportunities abound to invite diverse viewpoints into our children’s lives: consider attending a cultural celebration, community gathering or even a religious service that you would not normally visit. At home you may find family dinners, Sunday lunch or the occasional evening a good time to spark discussion about current events, community concerns, or school policies.
As always, the rules of engagement must include respect for others – no insults allowed – and sensitivity to each individual’s personal beliefs. By stepping outside our comfort zone, while maintaining clear personal boundaries and a strong sense of our family’s values, we offer our children a world of possibilities that will ultimately help them realize their own innate uniqueness in it.