Who Taught You That?

One of the books that I find myself recommending a lot is Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie. It is a wonderfully written book touching on organizational culture, authenticity, courage, creativity, expression and other related issues. One of the stories in the book has always stuck with me, since the first time I read it. It comes early in the book when MacKenzie is talking about his experiences working with young students and he talks about going into a first grade classrooms and talking to the students. When he asks how many of them are artists: “En mass the children leapt from their chairs, arms waving wildly, eager hands trying to reach the ceiling. Every child was an artist.” He compares that to going into a second grade class and asking how many of them are artists: “About half the kids raised their hands, shoulder high, no higher. The raised hands were still.” He also talks about going into a third grade class and asking the same question: “At best, 10 kids out of 30 would raise a hand. Tentatively. Self-consciously.” He goes on to say “The higher the grade, the fewer children raised their hands. By the time I reached sixth grade, no more than one or two did so and then only ever-so-slightly – guardedly – their eyes glancing from side to side uneasily, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a closet artist.

But this is not a blog post about your children or about my children. This is about you. And a little bit about me. I love art. I love experiencing art and I love creating art. I paint, I draw, I write fiction, non-fiction and poetry. But most of my life has been without much art in it. I learned at an early age, like the kids in the book, that I was not an artist. I had to unlearn that to get to the truth. While I may never make a living as an artist, to say that I am not creative or artistic is absurd.

But I believed it.

I believed it for a long time. I can remember not too long ago, being introduced by a friend and one of the things that she said about me was that I was “a writer.” I replied with something like, “gosh, I’m not really a writer.” When I said those words “not really a writer,” I had been blogging for over five years, I had had a number of articles published, I had written a couple of white papers and I had co-authored a book. How does that fit into any definition of not a writer?

What silliness have you learned or accepted about yourself? Think you are not creative? Think you cannot change or affect change? Not a leader, don’t have anything significant to say? Think you can’t make a difference?

You should reconsider that stuff.

“If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” -Vincent van Gogh

Be good to each other.


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