exercising creativity

IMG_4954Most of us look at aspects of our lives and world, wishing they could be different in some way. It feels impossible that it could ever get better. We need creativity. We need to think uniquely and usefully so we stop doing the same thing in the same way, getting the same results over and over again.

According to people who study these sorts of things, ‘creativity’ is a relatively new addition to conversation. For the purpose of study and measurement, it is commonly defined as something that is both unique and useful. Creative thinkers help us tease out new solutions and new futures in the midst of existing problems. They inspire us to see the world differently than before. For me, I am increasingly convinced about the importance of providing an environment that encourages the development of creativity in communities. For creativity to have an impact, I am realising two incredibly important pillars that need to be in place.

The opportunity to think differently. We’re not talking about a pseudo individuality here. This is the genuine appreciation for difference. Giving people the opportunity to think differently means that my way might not be the best (or right) way. It is the opposite of conformity of thought and action. It is not limited to one alternate, but many. For someone who sews, creativity is exercised in anything from choosing the colours for a project, to creating a whole new pattern, to sewing a zipper in with a different method. Creativity won’t make sense if you haven’t been given the opportunity to think differently. If you haven’t been given that opportunity in a very long time, you can give it a workout, like a muscle. Go back to the colouring books and, instead of painting the sky blue, change the colours of your whole picture to look a little less realistic. Pick up an object and try to come up with 20 different uses for it other than what it is intended for. Take an autumn leaf off the ground and take a minute to run your fingers over the top, edges and bottom. Look at it up close. Look at it from a distance. See it differently than you have before. Feel it differently than you have before. Visit an artist or an art museum and try to see through their eyes. Let wonder and curiousity back into your life.

The opportunity for skill development. Language is one of the first things we learn as children. Babies experiment with sounds, playing with them as they roll off the tongue until they form into words, sentences and stories. Spoken language becomes a skill that is accessible by the majority of people in the world. Is it any wonder that music, poetry and storytelling are found in every culture in the world? Language and its development shapes the way we view and interpret the world around us. As language changes, we change. As we change, language changes. Language is our first and foremost skill to use creatively. What new ways can we use it to bring meaning to our lives? To become someone who sews (clothes, blankets, curtains, cushions, tents …) there are a few necessary requirements: knowledge of fabric and its care, a needle, thread and knowledge of construction technique. Of course, you also have to have fabric to learn with, not just the knowledge of it. Without these, you will never be able to exercise creativity with fabric. You will only be a dreamer who imagines possibilities. This is the difference between thinking uniquely and thinking creatively. With only skill development, you will create the same thing over and over again. This is the difference between being skilled and being creative.

I like to start where I am, with what I have in my hands. What opportunities have I been given already with the knowledge and materials I have in my hands? Then I begin to think about the many different ways I could use them. Most of my ideas are really rubbish and need to be disregarded. This isn’t failure; this is pruning. Eventually, I will stumble upon something really good that helps me create something beautiful.

We need creative people. We need them in our businesses, in our governments, in our schools, in our communities, in our churches and in our homes.

How can you think differently today? What angles haven’t you considered? What opportunities for skill development are available to you? How can you give courage to someone to think differently today? What skill can you pass on to them? Let’s be creative people together.

how to positively engage young people

bruce perry quote

I walked quietly into the room and sat down on the far side of the couch. One wrong move and I would spook a very fragile teen girl I was going to be spending a bit of time with over the coming months. That could take a while to recover from and trust was the goal. I kept my head down, my body turned slightly away and just let her get used to me being there. I made no demands and didn’t ask any questions. The next move was up to her. We sat like that for 20 minutes.

This sounds like the opposite of what it looks like to engage a teenager. Logic might tell us that engagement requires eye contact, conversation or doing something together. That might be the end goal but the journey is not always as simple. Trust needs to be built first and trust takes time and some key components. Working on trust is worth the effort though. Trauma specialist Dr. Bruce Perry writes, “Relationships matter: the currency for systemic change was trust, and trust comes through forming healthy working relationships. People, not programs, change people.”

Trusting relationships alleviate pain. And let’s face it, most people experience varying degrees of pain in their teen years! Two of the main building blocks of trust, patience and faithfulness, have worked miracles in alleviating pain in many young people’s lives. They are some of the best things we have to offer teens who are feeling pretty raw with hurt. This might seem like common sense and yet it is amazing how quickly we decide that a young person is not deserving of patience and faithfulness when they come across as disrespectful or downright rebellious. If we are not patient and faithful, it will be unlikely they will truly engage with us. Pushing our buttons or refusing to play by our rules is their way of testing how trustworthy we are. Patience and faithfulness prove that we can see through their behaviours and actually see them – not for what they can do for us but for how much they can really entrust us with.

In case you are wondering what this looks like in real life, patience looks like watching them make the same mistake … again, while genuinely encouraging and cheering them on. It looks like knowing when to challenge them and when to hold off a little. It looks like sitting in silence sometimes. Faithfulness looks showing up over and over again even if they don’t. It looks like only making promises you can keep and then keeping them – every time. It looks like staying focused on them when you are meant to spend time with them. Faithfulness is holding to the consequences, good or bad.

Today I will be leading a mini-workshop on Engagement with Young People as part of Solas Project’s Step Up mentor training (I have been a mentor with them for a year and a half now). As well as speaking about persevering in building trust we will also cover some very practical things we can do:

Use intentional body language. Be aware of what you are saying to a teen without saying a word at all! How close are you standing? Sit down or lean against something so that they get a sense that you aren’t there to dominate them. Think about all the things you think are great about them (if you are struggling to find good things, it will nearly be impossible to engage them!). Your thoughts about them will come across in your facial expressions and the feeling of the air around you.

Find out what they like and do that together. First you need use creative investigation to find out what they like! Some teens will take some time to pry this out of. Easiest way is to just ask. If they don’t tell you, try a few things out and watch their response. There will be time to challenge them to try new or difficult things but start with the easy stuff first!

Tell them the good things you see in them. This might send them running in the opposite direction at first – especially in an Irish context. When they do a good job at something, even if it’s small, tell them and tell them why it was good (i.e. “The snowflakes you drew were so creative. I love the colours and different shapes”). If there isn’t really time or if this is something new and you have to think about it, find a way of writing it down and giving it to them. A journal that you share. Sticky notes that you put up in random places for them to find. Whatever you do, make a habit of it! They will get used to it.

Be real. A friend who worked with teens dealing with addiction and/or mental illness once said to me, “they will smell it if you’re not.” Don’t put on a show for them or try to act super nice – just be super nice if that is who you are. If you are having a bad day you don’t have to look like everything is rainbows and sunshine. Just make sure that your time with them doesn’t become about you and your issues. Let them see who you are over and over again. The real you is the best thing you have to offer them. If you don’t like the real you, then make the changes you have been wanting to!

With some young people, building trust has taken two years. With others a level of trust has been built within an hour. For it to go deep though, it will take time. And that is where the healing is.

Read on for group discussion questions. Continue reading

clear away the dead

Where we expect things to grow we must also expect to clear away the dead, the things that used to thrive but are passed their prime.

Cherry red geranium blossoms, pale green vines and small blue flowers welcomed the coming of summer on my small balcony. It was a surprise that they survived the winter with very little care. Satisfied with their inner strength to provide me with colour with very little effort on my part, I left them to get on with their blooming and their growing. Several weeks ago I stopped long enough to notice that all the colour was gone. Browning, lifeless foliage was all that was left. They had enough water so what was the problem?

I had not cleared away the dead. The blooms of spring and first leaves were rotting in the pot. Mourning the loss of my colourful flowers I had images of all the things that must have sucked the life out of them: green fly, spiders, too much rain. Finally I text my mom a picture of my pot and asked what I should do. I wasn’t expecting the suggestion I was given: clear away the dead and cut it back. The pot looked pretty bare after and I hadn’t enjoyed sticking my hands into the rot and sticky spider webs. Nothing was left but scraggly remnants of the stems that used to thrive with flowers.

Spring growth is not enough. It dies as the plant tries to live out it’s purpose – to produce new flowers.

My September plans have been growing since the spring of this new season in my life and I have found myself having to cut away last season’s growth. The roots of new hopes and dreams have begun to dig deeper but the first fruits have had their season and it’s time to clear away the dead so that dreams and plans can thrive. Thoughts are tucked away in the pages of a journal. Computer files are sorted and deleted or preserved. My schedule is re-evaluated so as to make sure time is allocated to what is most important. Even my small living/dining/spare bedroom has been adjusted to suits the needs of today rather than yesterday. Living in the successes and failures of yesterday is like mourning the flowers of spring and willing them back to life again.

This week I noticed that colour has returned to my balcony again. There is new growth coming from the healthy stalks and roots. Clear away the dead. Cut it back. Make room for new growth.

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