“Sometimes we need guidance over tough terrain, and other times all we really need is some company.”
Vinita Hampton Wright in The Soul Tells a Story
To be at one’s creative best is to use gifts, talents, and innate abilities to form something, to affect a change in another person, or to offer a yet undiscovered alternative to an existing idea, problem, or dilemma. Expressing one’s creative bent by way of the “arts” (prose, music, theatrical) is limiting at best. Often the most telling indicators of a person’s creative abilities emerges unaware to its artist. I vividly recall my electrician father pouring over schematics he nightly spread across our pool table figuring out ways to best convert or update existing electrical systems in a local plant. Even as a teenager, it wowed me to see him so lost in this work (and having the responsibility of over two hundred workers under him impressed me even further). This memory remains one of the finest examples of creativity I can think of today. Yet few would regard such labor as creative, still, by definition, my father exhibited all the traits designated to the creative process. There was imagination, visualization, problem solving, and finally execution. Certainly, his “work” required not only smarts but also something more enigmatic was at play…some intangible inner gifting that allowed him to succeed where many others could not.
Herein lays the rub, also the cure. People rely upon others to help them identify, hone, and develop their skills. How does this play out in everyday life? In a word: community. As author Vinita Hampton Wright explains, “…most of us need the security of at least one person who is willing to walk a step or two ahead and help us on our journey.” Whether you call it mentoring, teaching, or directing, everyone benefits from the experiences of someone else who’s been where we want to end up. Wright encourages all people, no matter what stage of life, to search out a person or two who might come alongside and offer timely advice and effective counsel.
According to Wright, characteristics of a good mentor include: locating someone you are comfortable with, a person who is not a major authority figure, one who truly values you/your work, is not threatened by your success and is already a few steps ahead of you. Mutual listening and observing are also essential to this process of discovery and development.
At its very best, the development of a person’s gifts (and their subsequent expression) will result in putting people (and society) back together, whether this takes place on a purely aesthetic level as in the viewing of visual art (which offers a hopeful perspective) or as a result of someone’s handiwork repairing an automobile (the nuts/bolts necessary to life). Every day every person is somehow affecting their specific sphere of influence by their attentiveness to the full use of their gifts or their neglect of them. As part of community, each person has something of value to offer and all suffer when even a few fail to draw upon their strengths for the sake of the whole.
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