Thursday, December 20, 2012

How to smash creativity in children?

Growing up in Bangalore, India in a middle class  Hindu family in the 70s and 80s, I have had my share of experiences of having my creative spirits smashed out of me. I have also observed the murder of creativity happening to others around me. I hope people reading this and who happen to be those who  smash the creative and exploring spirit of children or anyone ..... change .
I have listed below how creativity and exploring is cut in various ways by  well-meaning people.


  • When a little baby crawls around the house, the person-in-charge, keeps carrying the baby back to it's cradle or bed and tells the baby to stop crawling. Instead of making the room or home child-friendly and child-safe, they prefer to stop the baby from crawling around. This happens so frequently that the child finally stays put in it's cradle.
  • When a child of three, four or five, draws or colours, well meaning relatives correct it constantly by saying, "roses are red. Not blue. Dont use the blue pencil. Use the red" or "A house is not round. It is square. Draw it properly". This sort of comments, criticism prevernts the child from doing what it wants to. The relatives want the following from the child:(1) What it is drawing should "Look" like the object it is drawing;(2) Many relatives are impatient and want the child to get it 'right' the first time or 'pretty soon.(3)Some relatives are so impatient, they dont let teh child find the solution by itself but demonstrate or teach and rob the child of the process of finding the answer on it's own through trial and error, through thinking and by taking time.
  • Most people are extremely narrow and conservative in their thinking and expect the same of their children. What is 'right' in their opinion is usually what is the norm in Indian society. Anything different is 'wrong' and ergo, actively discouraged. A teenager who wants to grow his hair long is critised by his parents and nagged until he cuts it short. If a child refuses to oil her hair, she is scolded and her hair is oiled by force. If a girl wants to cut her hair, she is not allowed and made to grow her hair and plait it. Though parents have become a bit more flexible about giving freedom to theri children about the way they dress, teens and kids still do not have complete freedom to dress how they like.....especially if the way they want to dress is far out.
  • When children create something such as a drawing, painting, story, poem.....unconditional love is not what they get. Comments which are critical or mildly positive(the belief in India is if you praise children, it will "go to their heads' and so it is better to "not praise them too much"), corrections and suggestions to change or do differently are what they get. The kind of comments they get is enough to dampen the spirits of most children or teens.
  • Also the adults , most of them being conservative, praise only if the creation of the child falls in their own narrow criteria of what is good. For example, if the poen rhymes, it is good, if not, it is not. If the drawing looks realistic it is good , if it is abstract, it may not get much praise.
  • Children also have little exposure to creativity. There are no art galleries in most small towns of India. The museums usually have Indian traditional arts and crafts except the museums in big cities. These city museums sometimes host contemporary art work.  If one looks around in public places in India, one can see only the crass movie posters, photoes of politicians, models advertising various products and the Hindu Gods. While in the west, even in public places, one  sees  all types of  beautiful & creative art work such as sculptures, graffitti-art, great sayings; there are beautifully designed gardens, aesthetically appealing sub-way stations, railway stations in the west. The names of the shops too are funny, creative, whimsical in the west and it is a pleasure, simply to read teh names of the shops one passes by. In the west, one sees creativity all around and it inspires one to be creative. I fail to see creativity in Indian public places...not  to the extent one sees in the west.
  • While lack of money can stimulate creativity, in some instances,  it can also cause thought block and cut down creativity. When one has to always work within a budget...not just a money budget but also work within the constraints of limited things, limited time, it simply restricts creativity.
  • Belief in superstitions and the interference of relegious beliefs is another major hinderence to creativity and explorations in India.  If one wants to design a house, you have the house owner, telling you that the door should not face that direction because it will bring bad luck, the toilet should be here and not there or he will have bad luck and loose money..... How the hell is the architect design an house with all htese instructions. The same goes in all areas of life. There are so many meaningless beliefs and superstitions, that when one tries to wrok within the narrow parameters allowed, one's creativity is almost completely stifled. Certain colours are not auspicious; certain times are not auspicious; certain things are unclean and cannot be used; the list goes on.
  • Acceptance of truth is a must for any creative endevour. And most Indians are , sad to say, completely afraid of the truth. Appearences are a lot more important than truth. The hierarchy system in India makes it impossible for anyone lower in teh hierarchy to speak up about an unplesant truth especially to someone higher up than him in the hierarchy. This fear of the truth, prevents any sensible work from getting done....ergo, creativity is suffocated. For example, the current design of the road is causing a lot of accidents...it needs to be redesigned; but as the current design was made by a "chief engineer", no one has the guts to critize it and the road remains and teh accidents continue. Another example is of a mediocore artist getting space to exhibit her art work in a major gallery as she happens tobe the wife of a big-shot police officer; the gallery owner dare not refuse... a better artist does not get the space to exhibit as she has no connections;
  • When a person without any sort of prestige comes up with creative solutions to a problem, it is not accepted....especially if the solution is totally out-of-the-box. It is rejected out-right. I have seen this happen to Ph.D scholars who have conservative guides. However even foolish solutions given by big-shots is accepted. fear of authority and the hierarchy is a major killer of not just creativity but so many other things in India.  I dont know if this is true but the late Sanjay Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi had apparently suggested that forcing people to undergo vasectomy will help control the population of India and his suggestion was accepted! It lead to a lot of people being forcibly operated upon, even those who had not yet married and never had kids.
  • The absence of language growth is another major and in my opinion  the biggest hinderence for development of creativity in India. Creativity is the expression of new ideas in any form be it an object, a new scientific invention, a poem or a story or an idea.  While some types of creativity do not need language for example the creation of a sculpture does not need language, language is vital to communicate about the creation. So many new ideas, inventions, art works have come into existence today that unless language keeps pace with the new things created, discovered and invented, it would be impossible to communicate about the new ideas and things. English keeps pace with the changes and new things and ideas coming into the world. But I cannot say the same for Indian languages. Indian languages are lagging so far behind, that I think we are now about 100 years behind English. When the computer was invented, English devised the new word computer, which is short, easy to pronounce and spell and a word, which conjures up the picture of the computer in one's mind(at least for those who have already seen or know what a computer is) . However in my language, there is no word for computer, if one were to be created, it would be long and difficult to pronounce, which would stop people from saying that word.  People who speak my language i.e. Kannada, now use English words when speaking as there are no words in Kannada for those objects.  Can you imagine the extent of the increasing dependence on English words when speaking in Kannada today!
People useEnglish words not only for  objects but even to convey ideas and nuances as they are unable to find the words in Kannada for them. Let me give an example. In fact, the absence of words in my language, the poor language ability of adults who do not even use the few words existing in Kannada to communicate in a rich nuanced way, makes the children suffer from an even  greater poverty of thought and ideas.
 If you ask an English speaking child about food it may say, "delicious" or "Yummy" or "tasty" or   "scrumptious" . If you ask a Kannada speaking child it will likely say "ru-chi-ya-gi-de" i.e. tasty or "che-nna-gi-de" which means nice. That's it. No other descriptions for good food in the Kannada language. In English, people use a million different adjectives or expressions to describe  a thousand things. The word, Chenna-gi-de i.e. nice is used as a substitute for a million adjectives and expressions in English each of which convey a million different nuances. See how much poorer the Kannada language is by using one word i.e. Chenna-gi-de for a million different naunces!
The dearth of words to express feelings in my language compared to the variety of words to express nuances of one single emotions is another thing which makes me wince with shame. Here is a list of words in Kannada  commonly used to indicate depression...bejaru, dukha, manassu-sari-illa, sankata. In this list, apart from Dukha, the others are words which are not used only for sadness but for other emotions too. Bejaru can mean bored, sankata may mean both sad and feeling physically ill or feeling queasy.  Now see this humungous  list of words for the varied nuances of sadness & depression in English:   unhappy, down, low, blue, depressed, gloomy, grieved, dismal, melancholy, somber, glum, wistful, mournful, dejected, downcast, grief-stricken, tearful, lugubrious, pensive, disconsolate, doleful, heavy-hearted, heart-broken, down in the dumps, cheerless, lachrymose, woebegone, down in the mouth,low-spirited, triste, sick at heart, moping, inconsolable,feeling bad, sorrowful,poignant,rueful and so on.
Another example of the richness of English language  is the paint section in any Home depot or Lowe's in USA or Canada. There are thousands of shades of colours and a name for each shade! I agree that the names make no sense to me but they do have a name for every single shade! and they have like ten thousad shades!!!
The huge poverty of  ideas, thoughts, expressions is made all the more apparent when I watch shows in English especially those on interior decoration in Canada and USA. I am constantly trying to translate from English to Kannada to convey the meaning of  what the decorater is saying in my language. I simply CANT! The Kannada translation is so absurd sounding, and does not convey the meaning or nuance at all. I am unable to translate and convey the appropriate meaning, of even the most simple phrases.  Let me give an example of what I cannot translate
Now imagine the lack of words, lack or expressions in Kannada language for the words in the branches of  medicine, engineering subjects, philosophy, ethics, sociology,  psychology, any field of the humanities or sciences. Translating a simple article in New York Times into Kannada is an impossible feat for a bilingual person, simply because the words or phrases  do not exist in Kannada. Once Proudly Web Only, Shopping Sites Hang Out Real Shingles is a title of an article I randomly picked from today's New York times.. I am simply unable to translate this title into Kannada in a way whichs conveys the right meaning while remaining crisp and elegant as this title in English.
This lack of  development (in Kannada and all other languages which are not growing like English) of  new words and lack of phrases  to contain and convey all the new ideas developed as we progress,  leads to a lack of ideas and this leads to decline and constriction of the thinking process and creativity.
Now imagine the fate of my village relatives who are not exposed to English, who know only Kannada and study in Kannada medium......imagine their fate in today's increasingly sophisticated world. Each day that passes adds new words and ideas in the English-speaking world and this leaves them farther and farther behind until a day comes when they may feel completely clueless and helpless to live in the modern world! I know English ...yet I feel clueless and helpless when I have to use a new computer or a camera or a cell phone. So imagine,  a major population of India who do not speak English---how they are getting left behind, farther and farther back, simply because they do not speak English. Forget creativity. They cannot even get by due to their lack of English.

The reason for writing this article......I have recently borrowed books from the TPL in the 500 series by Lark publications such as the 500 gemstone jewels, 500 ceramic sculptures, etc. I loved seeing the objects in these books and admired the creativity of the artists. I have not seen such unusual jewels or works of art except   on very few  people and in  museums.
 I was  depressed to realize, how unable I am to think out of the box or be creative. Growing up in India has made me think in such narrow conservative ways...To me, An object has to be functional; it has to be beautiful and my definition of beauty is pretty narrow; it has to be inexpensive; it has to be long-lasting. I simply cannot even think or create outside these parameters! Oh and one more narrow criteria of mine....the object has to be symmetrical. When I try to create something, so many things seem taboo in my mind that I end up doing nothing!

What did I learnt from the Lark series books about myself?  I became aware of  the several  blocks   in my brain, preventing me from being creative. I was thrilled to see jewels and objects which were  asymmetrical, yet attractive; things which were made from unusual materials such as a necklace made of  smooth river stones; a granite finger ring; things which were not functional such as a really pokey necklace or a breakable and delicate object; things which were not beautiful but simply unusual and so on.


 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Indian culture from medieval period to our own period has been witnessing authoritative attitude and oppressing behaviors. This impacted us on our ability to have curiosity, creativity and change.

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