Forget Trump and Nickelback for a moment. If there’s one thing people really don’t like here in the U.S., it’s creativity. We all say we do. But we really, really don’t.
Sure, job boards left and right proclaim they’re looking for creatives, “ideas people,” who will lead their organization with their out-of-the-box thinking.
I bet you, like me, can say that most of your jobs advertised a similar requirement. And once you got there, no one wanted to hear a word from you beyond “I agree.” Turns out people would rather accept unexceptional ideas than brilliant, creative ones.
The same goes for education. We encourage kids to be creative, to think differently, to express themselves in whatever way works for them. But teachers overwhelmingly discriminate against their creative students, contributing to a vicious cycle of mediocrity that we then criticize.
And it’s all because we’re afraid to be uncertain. We’ll do just about anything to avoid confronting the unknown.
As if this thin veil of assurance we all live behind is palpable. As if it can’t be ripped apart in an instant. As if our lives won’t change, won’t crumble, won’t cave in on us as long as we tow the line.
So, like cats on high alert, we trace and retrace our steps within the boundaries that have been drawn for us, examining our domain from every angle for assurance of safety and conviction. For the validation that people will think what we say is right. That we’re living our lives accordingly. That we’ll wake up again tomorrow.
We bury what haunts us, individually and as a group, in favor of old methodologies that will “work” because they always “have.”
On the surface, American society lauds creatives and innovators — but usually only the ones who have contributed to our GDP in some significant way. Steve Jobs, for instance, is endlessly praised for his contributions to society (personally, I’d argue he did a lot more harm than good), but artists, musicians, and writers are still very much seen as hobbyists.
Americans believe creativity is only good when it leads to results – and then it’s called “innovation.” Creativity = innovation = profit. If this equation isn’t realized, then the creative endeavor wasn’t worth it.
When I was young, my dad told me that if I ever wondered why anyone did anything, or why the world was so screwed up, the answer was always money (which we never had). He was mostly right. But I’d add power and control to that.
Creativity threatens power and undermines control. It leads to endless possibilities to make the world better. It gives anyone the opportunity to invoke change. None of this is comforting to the established order.
It’s why Americans have been trying for decades to progress in spite of creativity rather than because of it.
That’s why living creatively is an active, and difficult, choice. Creative people must be endlessly resilient, surviving pressures for social conformity and harsh criticism. They have to be prepared to always justify their decision to be creative, and to fight to preserve it. It’s harder than most jobs and can be lonelier, too.
So do more of it. Do as much as creative work as you possibly can, any way that you can. If creativity is one of your core values then you’ve already embraced the unknown. You’re not afraid, even if you sometimes feel like you are. You’ve already accepted the fact you’re powerless over most of what happens to you, but you’ve decided to do something beautiful with it anyway. It’s what ultimately makes humanity press on.
You’re already way ahead of the curve.