Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Social unconcern



I read a blog recently by creativity coach Eric Maisel about the traits of the Creative Personality: Confidence, Depth of Knowledge, Patience, and Social Unconcern.

The first three seemed obvious. But, social UNconcern? Was that a typo? Once I read the anecdote I understood.

A man known for his creativity came upon a group of people who appeared to be dancing. As he got closer, he saw that they were swatting at a swarm of gnats tormenting them. “Help us!” they cried. The man approached but kept sufficient distance that the gnats ignored him. “We’ve tried everything!” they cried. “But we can’t keep these gnats off us!” The man studied their situation and noticed that in the midst of the suffering assembly was a pile of dried dog dung, dried out from the recent hot weather. The man knew that in other cultures people used the smoke from smoldering dung to keep away flies, mosquitoes, and gnats. “Light that dried dog dung!” the man shouted. “Its smoke will repel the gnats!” “Ugh” the crowd cried as one. “We would never touch dried dog dung! Ugh! What would people think of us if they saw us picking up poop!” The man repeated his message. Again the crowd refused, citing how others would view them. Finally the man shook his head. “Then the gnats win,” he said, turning away and wandering off to attend to his creative work.

Wow. What would I have done in that situation? Made a speech about the ends and the means, offered to build a machine to do the job without touching the poop, offered to spend a Saturday helping clean things up ... I never know when to show UNconcern. I always do my best to answer a call for help, but what I don't do is accept when it's time to move on.

Do you know when to quit "helping" or do you sacrifice creative time by hanging on too long?

11 comments:

Bill Cameron said...

The thing about that anecdote is that it's a perfect example of how one can construct "support" for a hypothesis, rather than find actual support. The anecdote isn't evidence that a creative personality has social unconcern. It's only evidence that Eric Maisel knows how to make up an anecdote that appears to support his hypothesis. It's an artificial situation in which every character behaves in rigid, pre-determined way. When you control all the variables, of course the "evidence" supports your hypothesis.

Camille Minichino said...

I think that's the point of anecdotes like this -- like parables, they're not meant to be taken literally. They're set up for us to reflect on patterns and choices we make.

Thanks for opening discussion on one of my favorite topics, Bill. In a way it's the essence of fiction.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Which is the lesser evil though, smell-of-burning-dung or buzz-of-gnat? Hmm. The unconcerned social-ist slaps on a little DEET and moves on (grin).

Ann Parker said...

Hi Camille,
I'm like you, in that, generally, I feel honor-bound to "help." And yes, it *can* take away from the energy available for writing ... at least, that's been my observation.

What's that law about the total amount of energy in a system remaining constant?? ;-)

Camille Minichino said...

Good point, Kathryn!

And, Ann -- I wish you hadn't reminded me of that law! Isn't there still a chance for a perpetual motion machine??

Anonymous said...

Reflect as we may (and we do), it seems it's UNcommon for us to know when to become UNinvolved. xoxoxox

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I have the uncomfortable feeling that I'd drown myself helping someone else. (In fact, it nearly happened to me once.)

Ugh.

Camille Minichino said...

We might have known you'd go the distance, Joanna!

Monica Ferris said...

I'd probably be trying to help -- standing upwind spraying DEET seems as if it might be helpful. But I agree with Bill, this is a parable, not an example. People being annoyed by gnats need to go indoors. That's what I do.

Camille Minichino said...

I suppose now I have to look up DEET!

Ellen said...

I would hypothesize that the gnats were attracted to the dung, and the afflicted were simply getting in their way.

"Move!" I would cry.