The real nitty-gritty of progress

Posted 01.15.11

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Of the ten thousand things that might help us in the Pontiac region of Quebec move towards material well-being and personal happiness, there's one we rarely consider. Because so many jobs have been lost, we hear only of economic matters: new industries, resources, investors, and government funds. This business-only way of thinking touches everything -- except the positives.

What's missing is the slightly airy-fairy notion of building our own creative imaginations.

One researcher in community development, Richard Florida, has pointed out that a focus on business-only thinking has not created progress elsewhere. He says a community's ability to grow and find happiness is dependent on its ability to see new opportunities first and to envision how new markets and technologies can re-build our region.

These abilities to see beyond the moment are based on using a "creative imagination." Without it, we're stuck way back in the pack, surviving on the crumbs of others' inventions and successes.

A creative imagination -- defined just as it reads, as using our imaginations in a creative way -- is a hard-nosed tool. It's not frivolous. It can increase productivity and it can empower us to go out and, as they say, seize the day, rather than sit waiting for others, government or industry, to solve our problems. Those forces inevitably seek to solve their own problems, not ours. Equipping ourselves, raising our skill-levels, or that of our kids, is the real positive alternative here.

It's popular to insist that schools and colleges teach specific skills -- like plumbing, circuit-board design, or nursing. These can lead to a job, quickly. But when the job changes, grows obsolete, or becomes cheaper in China or Mexico, that skill-based education suddenly is a constriction.

It is flexibility, vision, knowledge of history, and the ability to create absolutely new combinations that will see us through, and which will be our tools to use what the complex modern world throws at us. These skills help us grab the ball and run with it.

They also allow us to be brave. We need not fear change if we are equipped to deal with change; we fear it if we've been streamed to one skill only. Flexibility allows us to realize there are many, many proactive responses to problems and crisis, besides merely complaining about them.

How do we gain these essential skills or teach them to our kids?.

It would be wonderful if the schools had strong programs in the creative arts -- music and art, for starters. We can urge our educators and politicians who make the budgets to bring them back, but these officials seem caught up in old linear business models. That's why they cut out the creative options in the first place.

Pontiac has one advantage -- we have a strong artistic community, including the Pontiac School of the Arts. We can support our artists and musicians and we can send our kids (and ourselves) to the School of the Arts in Portage du Fort.

Most of all, we can encourage our kids (and ourselves) at home. As a professional artist told me over the holidays, we can do much more than give our kids colouring books and craft kits. It is creativity and imagination we want, not hobbies. Don't give your grandkids little paint brushes so they can make little marks within the lines on a page, she said.

"Give them big brushes and lots of paint. Let them make a mess. Have them hold the brushes at their ends, not throttling the brushes' neck, so they have more freedom of movement -- and put brushes in both hands, which will stimulate right and left-brain creativity. Use old house paint -- the more colour the better. Put big paper on the basement floor or on the summer driveway, so the kids have no limits on their imaginations."

Our key, creativity, begins at home; it's cheap; it's messy; it's based on fun, not on rules. It will grow and eventually brighten our Pontiac's future more than we can imagine. When opportunity finally knocks, we'll be prepared.

Copyright © 2012 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/01.12