Is Society Killing Our Creativity?

First, please, for your own sake, watch this wonderful short film:

I’m sure the message of this movie is probably something you can identify with. I’m sure you can remember being a child and using your imagination only to be told that “you’re being silly” or to “get serious” and “stop playing around.” Haven’t we all?

Perhaps this is why were in the trouble we are in.

For over a century now, there has been a concerted effort to what is commonly called “the dumbing down of America.” Now I don’t mean to sound militant about it but this is based on years of research. Everything you see in this film is absolutely true. Little by little play time for each child has been shrinking. Children no longer are able to reap the rewards of self-realization that comes along with playing with other children face-to-face. And that’s a pity.

It is the responsiveness of interactive play that teaches us so much about being a human being, exploring who we really are, what we really think and how we really feel about the world around us. We learn empathy, compassion, fairness and the consequences of our actions through the interactions with others.

Of course, spontaneous play like this requires imagination and creativity. But often in our society, the artist is the low man on the totem pole. You’ve heard the term “starving artist.” Why is that? I don’t understand why people who use their creativity should be considered participating in an undervalued and unappreciated way of making a living (for the most part). How many artists do you know who have another side job just so they can make a living to feed themselves and pay their bills? How many musicians do you know who are living bare bones? Or painters or poets, or people who create things with their hands? These talents usually have to be relegated to the realm of hobby. I guess that means self-expression is a hobby. It is undervalued, unappreciated and a source of problems not just for the individual but society as a whole.

Part of this is due to societal changes. It’s been about 40 years since we started to have parents who need to each be working to sustain a household. Kids are now often stuck at home left to their own devices. No longer can children go outside and play like we used to and interact using their imagination and creativity and learning more and more about ourselves, others and the world around us. With advances has come a steady decline in both play and opportunities to play…and the freedom of expression that comes with it. And it starts with the education system.

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, once factories were created and workers were needed, education began to focus more and more on skills required for the job. Anything else was considered frivolous and unnecessary. That’s why as years went on, the arts suffered. Play time suffered and we slowly started to become drones for a paycheck. Just show up to work, do your job, get paid, go home and if you want to play, you have to wait till you’re retired or just do it on the weekends. In fact, I believe it was Henry Ford who would fire anybody heard laughing on the job. His sentiment was that you were here to work not have a good time. And so that’s what became of corporations in general.

Fortunately there are a few modern day businesses, particularly in the tech community, who provide pool table and ping-pong tables, gyms and other forms of relaxation while on the job. They found that people become more productive when they’re relaxed and happy. This is a very welcome change but it certainly is not enough. Why? Because we need to be playing from the time we are children. If we don’t, then we begin to lack emotional empathy and understanding of each other all the way to the point where we become sort of detached from our very selves. We slowly turn gray just like the characters in the cartoon.

My advice? Make sure you and your children have plenty of time to play and interact one-on-one face-to-face. Play imaginative games. Not just board games or games that involve a ball or some other sort of sport, but games that require spontaneity, and responsiveness, that are challenging and just plain fun. I think we owe it to our children to provide them with the kind of balance necessary for them to develop their entire brain. I suggest for your benefit as well of those you care about, that you come up with a game night and you start inviting people over and you start playing the kind of games that can be found in improv. They not only enhance your brain function but they also bring joy and balance back into our lives. And they’ll open the doors to a brighter future for you, your kids and society as a whole.