“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” - Joseph Campbell
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” - Albert Einstein
“Education is not about filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” - William Butler Yeats
"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting." - e.e. cummings
When we were kids, in the first chapter of our lives, we were full of imagination, full of curiosity, full of a sense of play and wonder, full of uniqueness, and completely unaware of the dictates of time and society. This is the foundation of who each of us is and ever will be.
I remember that when I was a kid I had a fabulous imagination. As a 5 year old living in Chile, I would fly around my neighbourhood for hours in an airplane that my artistic father made for me. It was a box with wings, a propeller and a steering wheel, painted with beautiful designs, but with no propulsion system or advanced electronics. I remember flying around and looking down at the trees, the power lines, and my neighbor’s homes and seeing their various colored roofs, noticing their general state, seeing holes that needed to be fixed. I remember this so vividly, as if it actually happened! But of course it didn’t happen, since I was missing an internal combustion engine, much less a flying license.
I also remember making wild projects, and how the adults I’d show these things too would be genuinely impressed. Something like a robot box that I would put over my body with different buttons for people to press to get various responses… how they laughed.
When I was 7 my parents brought me back to live in the US, and that was when I started to watch a lot of tv since there hadn't been much tv in Chile in the early 1970’s. It started as it does for most kids, watching cartoons. I just loved them. But then the habit began of sitting in front of a screen more and more, and thus my imagination started to diminish. By the time I was a mid-teenager, I noticed that I didn’t have much creativity left. It was painful. When trying to do homework assignments, I really struggled to come up with ideas. The assignments felt alien to me, so I couldn’t relate at all with them. The struggle was so rough that I felt quite dumb. I also remember how my attention span was so short.
When I was 20, I made a conscious decision to recover my imagination by watching less tv. I also made a determined effort to read more, which was tough since I was not in that habit of reading books without pictures. Slowly this started to help, even though if felt like the sluggish re-direction of a huge ship. Slowly my imagination started to grow back like a tender and delicate little seed starting to sprout through the hard soil.
In university I had to take many psychology classes since it was my major, and I started learning about the pernicious effect of conformity and how it turns us into robots. This was so shocking! I wondered, “Has conformity happened to me?”, but of course it had happened to me as it happens to everyone, it’s a normal part of the socialization process. This is just how societies are structured, they have to be like this to civilize us, otherwise we remain as wild wolf children per se, or even worse, marmots. But then the conformity effects often go too far.
In my early 20’s I started to notice a very strange phenomenon. I’d meet people who I had gone to school with in early childhood, when we were all snotty nosed, goofy, funny, and uniquely unique, but now their personalities were affected by conformity pressures and thus they had changed a lot from their childhood selves. They seemed very adult-like to me. They even seemed to me to have forgotten that they ever were kids, when in reality it had not been that long ago. Again, I wondered whether the same had happened to me.
Anyways, the purpose of this story is as a reminder that we were all at some point little kids with powerful imaginations and insatiable curiosities, who laughed easily at the dumbest of things. That this is the foundation of who each of us is, and that this means we are all special individuals with unique talents and abilities and insights. To remember how much we enjoyed watching birds chasing each other through the trees, or really looking closely at a flower, or being enthralled by the magnificently coordinated movement of a many-legged bug, or looking at the sky while spinning in a circle. To remember what William Butler Yeats said and to apply it to our entire lives: “Education is not about filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” And that education doesn’t stop in school, and it doesn't have to stop when we're adults.
What really helped me regain my youthful enthusiasm was watching in my late 20’s the film "Dead Poet’s Society." It really lit a fire in my soul, and thus the trajectory of my life was wildly affected in the best possible way. "Carpedium" became my modus operandi. If you haven’t seen this film, or if it’s been a long time since you’ve seen it, I highly recommend it - it might unexpectedly inspire you in the best possible way.
From all this my life became a crooked path which the mystic William Blake mentioned in his famous quote – “Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.” For this I am forever grateful. But really, everyone's road is naturally crooked, our challenge is just that of removing the improvements. Bon voyage.