As I’ve looked back on my lifetime of creative endeavors, I’ve struggled to find a unifying theme to the projects that entice me. What do making soap, gardening, pottery, origami, baking bread, and crocheting nose-warmers (yes, I really did that), all have in common? Not much, it seems. But, over the years these things seem to have taken on a theme. Not only are all the things I feel drawn to do fun in themselves, they all help me achieve larger goals and purposes in my life. Crocheting nose-warmers helped me achieve some larger goal? Really? Well, yes, and if you knew my goals that might make sense.
I’ve had many goals and purposes for my creativity in my life, but over the past several years those goals seem to have narrowed to a fine point:
Bringing good to the little space of life I have influence over.
I have been a very self-isolating person for a large part of my life. I’ve had a few good friends, but I would only let them in so far. I kept most people at arm’s length. As I’ve gotten older and experienced some of the traumatic things in life, as come to every life eventually, I’ve realized that I really need people. I am wired to be connected. We all are. And, I also realized that most people feel just as vulnerable and scared of connection as I do/did. As a result, if I was going to have genuine friends, if I was going to feel like I had a community and group who had my back and where I could help others too, I was going to have to make it happen. No one was going to show up at my door and suddenly the magic would happen. I was going to have to be the brave one. I was going to have to pursue. I was going to have to risk the rejection that would surely come from time to time. Because, frankly, the alternative was unbearable. And, it is to that end that I have bent most of my creative endeavors. I may make something for a friend, and that helps my efforts in being more connected to the people around me – my friends and communities. I may grow an organic tomato because it is better, not just for me, but for my family and for everyone’s environment. I may make soap…well, just because that is really cool. Seriously, it gives me a special thing to give as a gift, it is cheap, and it is better for everyone’s skin. I may make a painting and give it to my church or school. Or, I may make a batch of peanut butter and give it to my friend who loves it, but just found out she has problems digesting the store-bought stuff. And all this beneficence my creativity brings to others, it always returns to me because it isn’t possible to do good and not feel good too. Now, you may think that sounds cold, calculating and selfish. It isn’t. What it is, is intentional. When we are not intentional about our relationships they have a tendency to suffer or fizzle and disappear. When I give something I made to someone it says to them, “I care about you. I value your place in my life.” And, most simply, but perhaps importantly, “I like you.”
I’ve heard people say that there are no truly altruistic acts. That no matter what good we do for others (short of actually dying), brings us benefit and makes us feel good and therefore we can’t be truly selfless. My response to that is: good. If someone did something really nice for me and they disliked every minute of it, it would be hard to receive without feeling bad. Someone else getting to feel good for benefiting me and vice versa sounds like win/win to me. Why complain? I don’t think we can be completely selfless (except perhaps in very extreme circumstances) because we are social creatures. The circumstances and moods of those around us, especially of those we are most connected to, affect us. Their good is often our good too. Biologically, it is the way we are wired. We are ourselves only in relation to those around us, for good or ill.
So, I think of creative endeavors as our accomplices in living a good life. Being in a creative state feels good. We’re making something useful or beautiful. The things we make are usually cheaper, better quality and healthier that things we could buy. Giving things away feels good. We’re creating little ties between ourselves and others and being socially connected benefits our mental and physical health. And, we’re often benefiting the environment, which improves everyone’s quality of life.
So, let’s influence the relationships and communities around us for as much good as we have it within our control to.
What are your favorite creative accomplices? And, how have you used them for achieving larger beneficent goals?