You are so inventive and resourceful,” my wife said, “you’re a creative genius!”
I modestly accepted her praise and walked back into my study carrying the camera tripod I had repaired in an unconventional way. Seeing a broken locking tab, I had asked myself, “In what ways can I solve this problem?” I was not always that inventive.
Little Jack, the Copycat
When I was seven years old and living in the Netherlands at the end of the Second World War, I had a problem but asked the wrong question.
Some of the older kids were making patriotic signet rings from pieces of Plexiglass windows salvaged from shot down airplanes. After shaping the rings they drilled three holes in the head of the ring and filled them with red, white and blue paint, the colours of the Dutch flag.
I was one of the little kids who wanted to do this too. But instead of finding out where they got the airplane glass and how they shaped the rings, I was obsessed with the problem, “How do you get the paint inside those little holes?”
“You use the pointy end of a file.” was the answer, and forthwith all my energies were fixated on trying to find a pointy ended file. I never did. Instead of blindly trying to copy one small detail of what some else had done, I should have found out the answers to the main questions and then asked myself, “In what way can I get paint into those holes?” I may have thought to use a toothpick or a small nail.
Tradition Trumps Creativity
While we lived among the Canela people of Brazil we often saw the same copycat attitude which blindly followed the traditional way things had always been done. One day a friend complained that his family had lots of sugar cane but no way of squeezing the juice out of it.
“What about the cane press out by the old chief’s house?” I said, “Is it broken?”
“No,” he said, “but we don’t have an ox to yoke onto it to make it go around.”
“There are lots of horses walking about,” I said, “why don’t you harness one of them onto it?”
He laughed and said, “You can’t do that! A horse has no horns. How can you tie the head yoke on?”
And that was that. He simply could not imagine taking the head yoke off the press and attaching a horse collar harness. His final word was, “No one has ever done that with a horse.”
Cultural Heritage Affects Creativity
My wife and I were doing some shopping with a local pastor in Barbados. She found a shirt she liked but the pastor pointed out that it had a stain near the shoulder. My wife examined it, and said, “No problem, I can get that out.”
“You North Americans can do anything!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know how to get that stain out, and my wife couldn’t. I don’t know of anyone who could, but you glance at it and say, ‘No problem’.”
The pastor was right. Many cultures like our North American one, have a rural, pioneer history that tends to ask, “In what ways can I solve this problem?” whereas tradition focussed, copycat societies ask, “How has this been done?”
God, a Copycat? Never!
We are called to be godly, which means god-like or being like God. God is creative; He made us in His image. Like Him, we also have the capacity to create. We need to practice this creativity in every area of our lives, not just in solving home maintenance repairs, but in strengthening our marriages, or raising our children or grandchildren.
In our careers, businesses, ministry or professions, God expects us to learn from others to see what has worked in their cases, but then to creatively adapt what others did to our own unique situations.
God is no copycat, who would He copy? He creates unique solutions to specific situations.
Let’s be godly and look for creative solutions.
So, are you godly? Or are you a copycat? What creative solution have you come up with lately?