Nurturing young creative minds, between obstacles and opportunities

Why does a child set to solve a hard problem from a young age? Why some of them have a drive to dedicate hours and hours of focused effort? Is there a series of obstacles and environmental settings that allow for children to become more interested in creation?

Everybody has ideas, and the natural capacity to create, but the kind of creation that outlasts a mortal person and set someone in the pages of history is a special one. Like the 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration quote about what genius is from Thomas Edison, the element of focus, hard work and determination separates the ones just having an idea, from the ones that execute on it. Where does it comes from?

It is difficult to put a cause without analyzing a consequence first, therefore in a very rational analysis we’ll need to start with only the individuals that have made a difference, the ones that set themselves apart, and try to find a pattern that fits their creative drive, their circumstances, and give us an explanation that get us closer to a cause. However, in trying to pierce together a string that joins all of these masters to a common thread does not seem that easy, since the key characteristic in their lives and behavior have probably been the variability and diversity of them.

The situations and nurturing that actually affect the creative potential of individuals seems to be known only after the fact, as a rationalization exercise. Which cannot be applied extensively to a cohort of children and expect a high probability of geniuses from ‘doings things right’. You have geniuses that came from wealthy families with very little setbacks in their early lives, and you have the classic rag to riches story where the poor and disadvantage child rise to the top driven by its intellect and cheer determination. You also have the ones where for most of their lives their genius was not such, they were just one of us that only later in their life produce their best piece of work opening the doors to a lasting legacy. It seems we like to find in the life of people who are able to change the way things work, or that affect the way we appreciate the world, a quality, a key factor in their upbringing that is rare, and difficult to imitate. We don’t like to hear that many of them were just as regular people as we were, with the same challenges and probably the same upbringing — seeing it that way does not sit well with us because it asks for a comparison with them, and examination whether we have applied ourselves to a similar potential. Just attributing it to perseverance, grit, resilience and stubbornness (clearly present in the great inventors and artists) is not enough to separate them from our mundane living.
We can count many examples of very hardworking people, toiling along towards an objective that never materializes. For the common people, only success determines that there was a special quality, disregarding whether the same situation and same attitude has been applied to a problem, with only chance deciding the outcome in the end. Fortune, randomness, the opaque are not things that we like to consider because it doesn’t let us explain, with a cause and effect kind of story, things that we want to understand. And yes, every parent wants to give their children the best upbringing and all the tools to be able to develop to their potential, but perhaps, as in many cases for great creators, their upbringing was marked by limitations: an absent parent (dead or just not present), an early setback in life, or an environment were they felt as an outsider (refugees, migrants, social class difference), those hurdles and situations, nurtured these children to be comfortable in being different, and gave them a constant practice of how to come up with solutions from the disadvantaged point of view. Skill in behaving like an underdog where nobody expects you to win but you end up winning is a great quality to have, always showing the upper hand in the critical element of surprise. So, assuming this is the join, the thread, behind a theory that explains the success of many masters, how do you get your children to move along these lines? In the parenting of our children, there is something deeply contradictory in providing the best opportunities, and the learning of overcoming limitations that will later be key in their lives.

Some will say balance and mix of situations. Not providing too much but not too little either. But, that doesn’t really tell you much about how to go about nurturing the right qualities in your heirs, and leaving to pure chance is not a possibility. In a parent there is a bias for action to care and provide that is almost biological and difficult to restrain.

From the child perspective, maybe in many of them, disregarding the parenting, or the conditions where they were brought up the result would have been the same: greatness in some, mundane living on others. The chance element is so big in a life, that sometimes you just have to let go of attempting to understand something that is beyond the human kind to be comprehended. Maybe in their view they just need to be let go, and fail, and learn by themselves. But also be available whenever they want to ask and be taught, not pushing, but allowing for them to be pulled towards as many experiences that can teach them something you can not teach yourself. If there is anything that allows for growth of a little guy mind is a diversity of experiences, different people point of views, and perspectives of how things should work. Understanding from a small age, that everybody is entitled to an opinion, and not all of them converge to a single truth is quite an advantage. A sensible route to mastery is then one that can provide a child with means to understand how little they will know from the world; as seen from the example of their elders after a whole life of effort and dedication; a sense of respect for knowledge; and an infinite curiosity in to understand things that could never be satisfied. If anything, a child realizing how little they will know the world would make it less daunting to them, and failing will be just a way to succeeding, as it’s only another perspective they are entitled to have.

“There is as much difference between us and ourselves as there is between us and others.” Michel de Montaigne

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