Spoiler alert: it’s not pretending to be a toddler

Allison J. van Tilborgh
Feb 5 · 4 min read

“If we want to be truly creative, we need to pull out the crayons and become three again,” my Small Group and Communication professor informs the class. It’s just past 11 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and all roughly 20 of us are meeting in the same U-shaped classroom. My professor had assigned us reading on a chapter entitled Chapter 12: Enhancing Creativity in Groups and Teams, due this class. It is the last chapter of the textbook.

My professor’s statement breeds confusion within me. Our textbook defines creativity as “the generation, application, combination, and extension of new ideas” but his metaphor seems to conflict with the hypothetical he’s developed of a young child with art supplies. It’s not the first time I’ve heard someone compare the exercise of creativity to a toddler drawing — I’ve worked for various Kids Ministry organizations over the course of the last 5 years and have heard this rhetoric used a lot.

This doesn’t desensitize me to the feelings of dubiety. If we are to become beings of creation, today in the present, what good does reverting to this younger state do? Furthermore, what good does giving up the vast and technologically advanced resources we have today do to bring us any closer to these actions of continuous generation, application, combination, and extension (apparently manifested by toddlers)?

I raise my hand, and my professor makes eye contact with me, allowing me to interject. I speak to the class, “I feel that there’s a temptation to see this act of running to a past version of ourselves as a solution — an easier time, maybe. But what more creative thing could we do than to learn as much as we can today, and use the tools, position, and influence we have today to be truly creative? Wouldn’t it make more sense to look at creativity through the lens of reworking our natural tendencies today than reverting to prior tendencies?”

It seems to me that the way we look at creativity today can become easily distorted by reveling in impossible realities for ourselves. We find inspiration in the boldness of children to color perplexing scribbles overlaying black lines on paper but do little to act on many of the avenues open to adults in the 21st century to indeed create new things.

I write this in 2019. Nearly any text, book, or piece of scholarship is available by hitting ‘search’. We carry around personal computers the size of our palms everywhere we go. At least where I live, if you need anything — dog food, shampoo, ink cartridges, a Chipotle bowl — you’re able to get it delivered to your house within hours (or sometimes minutes).

Why then, do we insist that creativity is best exhibited by children who still are not yet aware of the tools and immense potential of the future they will inherit? Creativity flows through the mastery of creative channels.

I’ve heard from peers that, perhaps, it is because children have lacked the knowledge and understanding of the world that inhibit our own abilities to invent. If we genuinely, collectively agree on this fact, are we better off not investing at all in increasing the knowledge of our children? Do we actually believe that knowledge limits the opportunities of our children to create — rather than expand their horizons, inspire them to ask more questions, and spur them to find answers? Does curiosity not begot creation?

Furthermore — should we not be leading our children by example? Should we not show them how to take their present, astounding, 21st-century instruments and convert them into entirely new creations?

My professor looks at me funny, “Interesting perspective.”

I don’t think he liked my comment by the way his nose scrunched up as I talked. “I can’t tell if you’re supporting me or not.”

I say something I don’t really agree with to try to win back my professor and cover up the points I made about the nature of creativity. Despite where my convictions are, I backtrack to an earlier perspective that leaves me with fewer tools, knowledge, and control. It feels ironic, but I suppose this is what adults do all the time when they see opportunities to create and get negative feedback. I guess that is what it feels like to be eighteen, aimlessly note-taking with a pen and notebook. I guess this makes me not so different than the subject at hand.

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Writers Guild

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Allison J. van Tilborgh

Written by

Scholar of Communication and Religion. Amateur conversationalist.

Writers Guild

Hone your craft. Share your story.

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