Thursday, 19 June 2014

Do you defend your right to imagine?

I have always given myself permission to imagine. I didn't realise that not everyone does, not until I was in my early twenties walking through the woods with a boy. 

Me: "I love woods, they remind me of Narnia - I always think that the trees might be dryads."
Him: "That's bullshit." 

I paraphrase, but it was something along those lines. He wasn't being mean. Indeed, we're still friends now. He was just impatient with what he perceived to be fanciful nonsense. He didn't understand the point in thinking about that stuff. I didn't understand why he wouldn't want to. 

Richard Johnson's Imagination series

To me, seeing a story behind every stick and stone, behind every face and sound, makes the world endlessly fascinating and engaging. I like finding patterns, links and themes. It makes life a game that I want to play. In Myers Briggs personality tests I come out as a "N". 

"Paying the most attention to impressions or the meaning and patterns of the information I get. I would rather learn by thinking a problem through than by hands-on experience. I’m interested in new things and what might be possible, so that I think more about the future than the past. I like to work with symbols or abstract theories, even if I don’t know how I will use them. I remember events more as an impression of what it was like than as actual facts or details of what happened."

Yep, that's me. I find it fascinating to watch my 6 year old daughter and her friends navigating the same sort of clashes.  At 6 they haven't yet learned the art of tolerance and compromise, or that it's okay for other people to think and believe different things from you.

"Muuuuumnmmm, she says that Fluffy [stuffed animal] isn't a real dog. She IS real. She IS!" 

"Mum, she fell out with me today because I said she was 6 and she said she WASN'T 6 because in fairyland she is 16 but Mum, I didn't know what age she was in fairyland so it's not fair that she fell out with me and she is 6 anyway." 

These are situations to which I, as a parent, am required to respond. A friend has a daughter who loves fairies. In fact she says she is a fairy. "Do you think it's okay for her to be so into fairies," she mused. "Should I put a stop to it?"

My answer: a resounding NO.

I was brought up by religious parents where faith and imagination were critical to their belief system. I had a Dad who told me fairytales which blended with my everyday experience. I had a plastic Virgin Mary straight from Lourdes with a screw off blue crown to pour out Holy Water. I also made shoes out of tin foil and left them on the window sill for fairies. Each year my Dad went to great trouble to show that Father Christmas had been. Presents would be hidden on the roof, behind the chimney and carrots would be chewed. Magic was entirely permissible.

My childhood was richer as consequence and so is my adulthood. I have never left those childish things behind me. I still look at trees and think of dryads.

This inclination to see a world within a world has been crucial to my working life. It has given me scope to create a vision for the programmes in which I work. It has helped me to see where dots can be joined to create something new, unique and exciting. It has helped me work out how to fire the imagination of others. 

So next time your mind wanders.... let it. 

If your children want to be fairies or goblems... let them. 

In a world beset by grand challenges imagination is our greatest weapon and our greatest defence. Indulge it, feed it and help it to become strong and powerful.  

And never, ever forget to look inside the wardrobe. 


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