Six years ago Daniel Pink published A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future. There he made the case that in business, manufacturing, construction, law, medicine, the sciences, education, religion, and the arts creativity will be the competitive difference that distinguishes one thing from another.
A key requirement of creativity is the need for solitude, as discussed by Susan Cain in her thoughtful piece this past weekend (“The Rise of the New Groupthink,” NY Times, Sunday Review, p. 1).
Ms. Cain writes:
“...most humans have two contradictory impulses: we love and need one another, yet we crave privacy and autonomy. To harness the energy that fuels both these drives, we need to move beyond the new groupthink and embrace a more nuanced approach to creativity and learning. Our offices should encourage casual, cafe-style interactions, but allow people to disappear into personalized, private spaces when they want to be alone. Our schools should teach children to work with others, but also to work on their own for sustained periods of time. And we must recognize that introverts…need extra quiet and privacy to do their best work.”
For me, almost nothing creative comes when I am working in my synagogue office. To make matters more difficult I deliberately leave my door open because I want to send the message that I am accessible and welcome all comers. Yes, I can get certain kinds of work accomplished even with this open-door policy, but almost nothing new or inspirational will come to me in that environment. Creativity happens for me at home when I’m alone studying, reading, thinking, and writing. Creative ideas also come during worship services, when I’m teaching, listening to others teach, and during pastoral counseling when two hearts, minds and souls are engaged with each other.
The novelist and Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck wrote:
“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create—so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. She must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency she is not really alive unless she is creating.”
Though artists are special human beings whose sensitivity and talent are more exquisitely developed and tuned to their environment than the rest of us, we all have the capacity to create and that creativity can come in a multitude of ways. Yet, we are, most of us, deluged with too much noise, too much interaction with others, and we are plagued by intellectual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual fragmentation and exhaustion that stops creativity altogether. As individuals and a community, this state of being is deadly and self-destructive. We need to be able to encourage ourselves and our institutions to create environments that (as my teacher Rabbi Larry Hoffman has recently written) “catalyze the greatness within us and within our people by encouraging brilliance, supporting genius and rewarding excellence” in every arena.
To begin, we need to reclaim solitude as a necessary element of our lives, and then when we reemerge, energized and inspired, we need to find ways to share our gifts.
In two weeks beginning on January 29 my congregation has granted me Sabbatical leave that I will take in two pieces over the next 18 months. I will return from the first segment in mid-April. The remainder will be in the Fall and Winter of 2012-2013.
In this first period I will be traveling to Israel (leaving on February 1) to study on Ulpan in Jerusalem in order to improve my spoken Hebrew and comprehension. When I return home I look forward to quiet and uninterrupted time to read, study and write. I will most likely continue to post here from both Israel and home during that time.
I am grateful to Temple Israel of Hollywood for this time away.