It was 2010, I was a bit tired and depressed about the world. The every day news seemed to reduce everything to the fact that human nature was ugly and hateful. Politics was hopeless too, having worked for social progress all my life, change seemed to happen at a snail’s pace. Suicide was on the increase, many young people had nothing to live for. I felt powerless to make a difference.
It’s not like we hadn’t tried. We had campaigned, voted, volunteered and marched. Like many people I was disappointed in the lack of effort to make Ireland more equal. Then came the crash, the ultimate cock-up. All of the funding for the work I was involved in, mainly in the community sector, was slashed and although community needs increased, services reduced.
Out of desperation, I began a daily practice of photography and walking. As I live in rural Waterford, I began to focus on nature, on small everyday triumphs, on the beauty of the ordinary. Even from the beginning I noticed the positive effect on myself and on my early readers. It wasn’t exactly mindfulness but it was my version of it. I learned through the lens of my eye and the lens of a camera, that it’s the small moments that count. Who once said “No one on their deathbed ever said I wish I’d spent more time in the office?”
When I began my blog, Foxglove Lane, I wondered what would happen if I tried to avoid engaging in controversy? Could I sustain a weekly blog about gratitude, the natural world, the beauty of the planet? Could I just make a positive contribution and still engage people in conversation and connection?
I can still moan for Ireland like the rest of us! But making more space for creativity has made me wonder how developing a greater appreciation for the arts could improve the performance of politicians, public services, education, enterprise? Imagination, problem solving, thinking outside the box, even making ends meet, all require freedom of thought and a willingness to colour outside the lines.
I once had to check in to Ardkeen Hospital for a scheduled procedure. I arrived at 8AM in the hall where a random group of dozens of people all waited for a window to open to check in. I enquired as to what the check in system was. There was none, it was a kind of an anxious free for all and as the numbers grew so too did the stress. Imagine the lack of imagination on behalf of the powers that be? A number system, a queue, some bit of information, anything would have helped?
We have some creative thinkers in high places. John Halligan is always willing to try to think afresh about issues and speaks from the heart, Katherine Zappone who understands the importance of early childhood education and equal rights, just made an impressive first speech on child poverty, Michael D our President is a published poet and a radical thinker blending socialism and art. I believe that creativity and diversity are our only hope of thinking our way into the future.
Recently Heather Humphries became the “Minister for Miscellaneous Items” and has been given too big a brief, an inadequate budget and a lack of vision. The arts do not feature at any level as important or valuable.
Maybe it could start in school? The best school system in the world in Finland promotes reading for pleasure with children, no homework, music and art. Children relax in school wearing their own comfortable clothes and socks or slippers. They are encouraged to go outside and have fun in all weathers. There are no high stakes tests that put on pressure. None of those spelling tests then with red biro marks all over them! Children develop to a very high standard of education without any of that it seems.
Creativity should be taught, encouraged in the workplace and become part of the strategy for continuing education for adults of all ages. The ability to reflect, think and create should be integrated into every aspect of life. It might take a few generations but I believe we could increase our prosperity in this way and ultimately increase our people’s happiness too.
We need more creatives as part of the mainstream. We need to balance learning with fun and mindfulness. There are so many problems to be solved, creative thinkers and innovators are urgently needed. Small, imaginative changes to how we do things could improve our quality of life and benefit the planet in the long run…..