Where Does Spontaneity Go? –
November 10, 2011
Spontaneity is one of the great strengths of little children; they live
in the moment, following their curiosity, darting here and there, picking things
up and putting them down, trying, exploring, laughing, playing. Play is
something that children know how to do very well…if only adults who have
forgotten how can stop interfering with their freedom to play spontaneously.
Many parents are scared of spontaneity.
They mistrust their
children’s ability to regulate their own time and do not recognize the value of
unstructured play. School definitely frowns on spontaneity, as do many so-called
recreational pursuits – especially those of the organized team variety.
Spontaneity also dies when we develop the compulsion to do things perfectly.
Although some personalities have that tendency, I think it is also encouraged,
if not created, by results-based schooling (and parenting). Somewhere along the
way, I smothered, and then all but lost, the ability to be spontaneous because I needed
to please my parents by being a quiet and “lady-like” child, to please my
teachers by being invisible except when called upon, and to please both sets of
adults by getting high, if not perfect, marks on tests. (It was that reaching my
potential thing.) So I learned not to take chances and only to do things I was
sure I could do well. It took me many years to regain the
ability to take risks.
Spontaneity sometimes dies when we train people to become
experts or “professionals.” My family didn’t have enough money to
give me lessons in things like drawing, singing, playing the piano – or, more
importantly, in writing. Nor did they value those things or think I was
particularly talented in them, let alone apt to become a professional.
And that misfortune became something positive; I
wasn’t inhibited about my scribblings because nobody defined what was good or
bad, or told me I belonged in the audience because I couldn’t attain perfection.
So I played with words. And that play helped me develop my creativity. And
because nobody expected me to be perfect, I was able to retain the ability to
play, explore, experiment, be spontaneous with my writing.
A friend of mine, on the other hand, learned how the
road to perfection is littered with landmines waiting to kill the joy of
creativity and spontaneity. He had fun noodling around on the piano. Somebody
thought he might “make something” of his apparent talent if he was “serious
enough” about doing so. So he had to get a teacher and start practicing. A
rigorous schedule was followed, there were competitions to take part it, always
on the road to the holy grail of perfection. He turned out not to be one of
those talented exceptions eager to hone their special skills;
sadly, the joy and
spontaneity of play fled as quickly as playing the piano became goal-oriented.
He doesn’t play the piano any more.
How sad to be taught that learning is work, that trial and
error is inefficient, that there is something wrong with the joy of discovery
and creation, that the only valid pursuits in life are those done for reward or
for other people’s reactions.
Like anything else that is abused, avoided, or underused,
spontaneity withers away. We become shy and inhibited about trying new things,
about expressing ourselves spontaneously. And that is unfortunate, since
spontaneity is one of the components of creativity, something that we can all
use more of in our personal and working lives. In fact, says the late child
development specialist, experimental educator, and author James L. Hymes Jr,
“Play builds the kind of free-and-easy, try-it-out, do-it-yourself character
that our future needs.”
Posted: 2011/11/10 9:45 AM