Imagine All The People...
"I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." - Albert Einstein
Let me tell you about my younger cousin Donovan. The first time I met Donovan, he approached me with an elaborate story of alien invasion, handed me a Nerf gun, and led me to the battlefield, charged with saving the planet from certain destruction. He didn't know me. He didn't know I thought he was the coolest kid I had ever met. He knew nothing outside of the fact that he needed a wing man to help him save the planet...and I obliged.
Donovan and I wiped out alien hordes for hours that day, oblivious to the family affairs going on around us. I would later learn I should have been paying more attention, but not doing so was way more fun. Almost every instance Donovan and I have had to be in the same room has led to an adventure, sans the times when I have to play adult and carry on a conversation with "real" people.
As of this month, it had been some time since I had the opportunity to play in his world and, frankly, I needed it. I was online, playing some Battlefield 3, and my young cousin sent me an invitation to jump into his game. Most times I am reluctant to do this, as I enjoy lone wolfing my way through online play, but this night I said yes. I didn't have my mic on, but this didn't deter Donovan one bit. For every scenario we got ourselves into, he would narrate a back story that made the situation infinitely more enjoyable. In a helicopter? Fellow troops are pinned down behind enemy lines and need our help. He would expertly pilot a chopper (no easy feat) to their position and rescue them, imagining a story the entire time.
I could not stop smiling.
This pre-teen from humble beginnings has an imagination fit for kings (imaginative kings that is). I envy him. I envy how effortlessly he jumps to his own world, uninhibited by adult fear. I envy him and I hope that he never, ever loses his imagination, for it is what makes him spectacular. I envy him and I am utterly frightened by the future that lay before him, for our world is no friend to the imagination of our childhood.
I hate that he has to grow up in this time. A time where education budget cuts lead to art and music programs getting cut from the curriculum. A time where originality means repackaging ideas no more than a few years old. A time where success has less to do with talent and more to do with connections. A time where bright, unique people sit on the bench while cookie cutter, trendy, mediocre apes play in the big leagues. A time where having an idea is less important than selling that idea.
I weep for him because I hear the tolling of imagination's death bell all around me.
"Out of every hundred new ideas, ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace. No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for those are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experimentation in the laboratory of history." - Will and Ariel Durant
This Pulitzer Prize winning idea has been the bane of our existence and has, more than any other idea, quashed our need for imagination. Our society has become so obsessed with the idea that some things are beyond our comprehension, are so large that we have no chance of influencing them or changing them. Sure, we all take the time to complain about the new tax on our income, but we shudder at the idea of taking any action against it. We shudder out of fear because we have been shown for years only one way that change can be brought about...violence.
In all our learnings and yearnings, violence is the historical medium for change. Nasty government? Rebellion. Tyrannical leader? Assassination or military coup. Book with naughty words? Burn it. Different views on anything? Cast them out. Gone are the days (if they ever existed) where a society based its change on intelligent discourse. Now our idea of influencing change has more to do with getting on TV than anything else, and there is no backbone there, no strength of will.
We are comfortable being led. We are comfortable being told that someone else will take care of it. We are comfortable doing the same job 40 hours a week and having nothing to show for it but money that gets poured back into the system. We are comfortable. Nothing comes from comfort. Nothing spectacular was created in comfort, and imagination is killed by it.
There are small moments in my day when I yearn for that comfort, that small peace that defines small minds. It is during these moments that I think of Donovan and his unlimited capacity for creativity. He gives me hope that we may have a future, though I hear the voices telling him to change. I hear them tell him a comic book is childish. I hear them tell him video games will affect his maturation into a productive citizen. I hear them quell his brilliance.
I tell you now little brother, and to those who would listen: Hang on to your childhood. Those games you're playing, those books you are reading, they are pure imagination. They come from men and women who held on to the brilliance of childhood, the unabashed creativity of youth. Hang on to it and never let go.
I salute you Donovan. You and every bit of hope for a better world that you represent.