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Childhood: Dreams and Creativity
Contributor: Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable®

Dreams and creativity are a part of a child's everyday life. Depending on those around them children's creativity is in turn nurtured, ignored, commended or discouraged. By thinking carefully about how and why a child's need to dream and create often seems to dissipate as the years pass, we can come to more fully understand our own creative core.

The lifelong creative child
There are those who have such a burning need to express or explore their world through creative invention, they form a lifelong commitment to explore their own creativity. For these people creating is not a matter of choice, it is essential for their well-being. Their drive to create may be psychological and/or physiological. That is they may have an insatiable need to understand or communicate their personal history or circumstance, and/or their bodies may have an involuntary and powerful response to a particular medium.

The encouragement of an adult towards a child is the crucial factor in the child continuing it's creative efforts into adulthood. Sadly, for the vast majority of people the drive to express their world through an artistic medium diminishes with every year that passes. The paintings stop, the dreams are pushed deeper into the unconscious, and the notion of the 'creative person' is born. With that notion comes the belief that most of the world is made up of people who are not creative. That mistaken view and the need to counter it forms the focus of the remainder of this article.

Infant know-how
I continue to be surprised by the low expectations adults generally have of infants and young children. Most adults vastly underrate an infant's ability to comprehend language and social interaction.

All animals are hardwired from birth to learn as quickly as possible about the world around them as this significantly increases their chance of survival. There's an inbuilt mechanism to develop potential to the fullest, and as humans we have the added strategies of language and creative activity that catapults our understanding of, and interaction with, the world.

If you have spent any time playing with very young children you'll know they have the ability to represent the world around them and display creative tendencies. Their purpose is immature and as a result their efforts are often dismissed as either happy accidents or of little consequence. However, although children's creativity is fleeting and unfocussed, their use of language and other creative mediums show creativity is a natural born tendency and very much in active development at a very young age.

Preparing the workforce
One of the main functions schools have is to prepare children to be an effective workforce. Schools which are affiliated with a religious tradition also emphasise an ethical structure which is integrated within the school ethos. A broad view of education is the personal development of the individual, and that this is a life long pursuit. In practice however political institutions will seek first and foremost to consolidate and reinforce their political structures.

Laws are past that ensure schools, and state education in general, follow political positions. The vast majority of children that pass through state education systems will then adopt many of the values and views the political system espouses and thereby propagate a particular world picture.

The choice of knowledge or creativity
The development of children's creativity is in general viewed as not as 'useful' in the workplace as the encouragement of formal knowledge. This was starkly demonstrated when I attended school and had to choose between Art and Music as options for my school exam years. Like many people I wanted to pursue both but couldn't. 'Creative subjects' were viewed, and still are by many, as soft options.

The strengths and weaknesses of channelling children into certain specialised areas, be it practical, knowledge based, or creative, is a complex subject. However, there is no doubt that in my case, and I suspect many others, restricting the amount of creative subjects I could study at school significantly delayed my attempts to become a more rounded creative individual.

We are generally required to make further choices about what areas to specialise in if we progress to further and higher education. More often than not people do not wish to appear vulnerable or weak and opt not to start developing their creative skill base after their early teenage years.

Talent and creativity
The root of why people spend less time in developing their creative potential is often centred around a feeling of technical inadequacy. People often mistakenly equate talent with creativity, and the fact that they cannot immediately and easily reproduce the results of talented individuals is often translated into an 'I can't' or 'I'm no good at' mentality. Again and again you'll hear people say 'I can't draw' or 'I can't sing' etc.

Talent is an innate ability to perform certain skills well and with relatively little practice. We all have talents although most go unrecognised and underdeveloped. Talent is vastly overrated. High achievers recognise that practice and hard work are the most significant factors in developing potential to the full.

Talent is useful socially as you impress those around you with the ease with which you perform a task others find difficult. In truth, talent, while providing a useful head start, is of little worth unless it is accompanied by a focussed programme of practice and development. Talent is a little like having an expensive off-road vehicle and only using it to take you to the shopping mall and back. It'll turn heads, that's all.

Towards a creative life
Developing one's own creativity is the development of original thought, inventiveness, and expression. Let's not get carried away here. We don't have truly original thoughts. Sure they're original to us as individuals, but let's not kid ourselves no one has come up with the idea before. That said, it may well be no one has extended, developed, or communicated the idea in an effective way before :-).

Dreaming of the future
We never stop dreaming, we just forget them more easily as we grow older. As we grow from childhood to adulthood Howard Gruber in his work Beyond Universals in Cognitive Development has noted we tend to be more able to exist comfortably with those around us however "...the development of the creative person has an almost opposite effect. The more he succeeds in constructing a new point of view which governs the look of all problems and possibilities, the more he increases the distance between himself and others. He must fashion ways of coping with this distance, and accept a sort of existential loneliness."

I hope we can forge a new path towards creative fulfilment which does not result in the social dislocation of 'creative individuals'. Creativity is not a gift bestowed on the few, but a state that should and can be enjoyed by the many.

Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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