This is the sort of thing that makes scrolling through my Facebook feed worth the time I spend doing it.
Seeing the rapture on Sir Hopkins’ face as he heard his creation brought to life nearly brought me to the same tears visible on the faces of the audience. The thrill of one’s creative work being expressed beyond oneself is a unique and indescribable joy known only to those who create. But what struck me almost as deeply as the beauty and complexity of Sir Anthony’s Waltz was the complexity of the man himself. Anthony Hopkins has long been recognized as a broadly talented actor, but his creative genius is not limited to stage and screen. He’s also a musician, a composer and a painter, expressing himself in media as varied as the roles he has portrayed.
I suspect that Hopkins’ genius was too powerful to be contained; there is every chance he was going to end up where he is, regardless of his circumstances. But contemporary society does not generally approve of such individuals. While we all applaud and celebrate the stars in our midst, we actively discourage the self expression and discovery that allows them to rise. The message we drill into everyone, from the most tender age, is Thou Shalt Stay In Thy Lane. When you’re a kid, you can only be a kid; you can have no revolutionary ideas, you can’t contribute to society, you can’t change the world. When you’re a student, you are to study and regurgitate the thoughts of others, not explore your own ideas.
Even as an adult, the whole of humanity is hellbent on keeping you in the small box they spent decades shoving you into. At work, you are only to perform the functions and roles they hired you to do. Anything more, and most workplaces will crush you for infringing on someone else’s little kingdom. You are to move into positions of responsibility only when they’ve decided they want you to, regardless of your relative ability, capacity for leadership, or mind for innovation. You will associate with people of your own kind and caste. You will not discuss politics, religion or science because you are not qualified to do so, and you’ll only upset everyone anyway.
When it is time to dance, you will line up and do the same dance as every one else, a la the bar scene in Antz.
The false gospel of the 20th century was “do one thing, and do it well.” This ethos is one of the most destructive and counterproductive ideas adopted in the history of humanity. The human mind is a powerful and diverse thing, and was never meant to be constrained to a single mode of interest, study or expression. Society gives a lot of lip service to the concept of individuality, but neglects to acknowledge that it requires a high degree of self direction. The irony is that, in centuries past, the realities of basic human survival limited most people’s capacity to explore their own interests and ideas. Today, more of the world than ever before lives in the sort of safety and comfort required for such endeavors, and yet they are actively discouraged.
Much is made of the waste of human potential and tangible resources brought about by war and famine, and those are tragic. But we actively wage war against our creative selves on a daily basis, and for what? To strive mightily at the status quo? What could we achieve if we stopped handcuffing human potential to outdated and oppressive frameworks designed around misguided understandings of human comprehension? What sort of world could we create, if we allowed ourselves to be creative?
Some of this is changing. Kids like Malala Yousafzai are changing the world, and being recognized for it. The explosion of social networks has connected people in ways never before possible, and the internet is allowing us to explore more of our interests with more depth and breadth than ever before.
But the analog world lags sadly behind the digital one. Our schools still rigidly adhere to the left-brain-dominant model of information dissemination. Bureaucracies still rule all our lives with the tyranny of a million trifling rules. Society still resists and lampoons those with ideas that would upset the apple cart, as they have since the time of Galileo.
We’re told that our dreams must be abandoned because they are are unrealistic, that art and music are just electives you have to take in school, and that athletics are for the young. But the brightest minds I know today are those who have rejected that misconstrued reality, and chosen to pursue all that their heart desires anyway. A friend of mine is a dentist, a musician, and a lifelong athlete. Another is a teacher, a mother, and a gifted runner and artist. These are not characters that would fit easily into a 20-minute sitcom episode. They do not stay in their lane, because no lane could contain them. They are also among the plethora of people who inspire and motivate me on a daily basis to strive toward my own potential for brilliance, whatever that may be.
If there is to be hope for humankind, that we should drag ourselves forward from our current malaise of wasted potential, meaningless struggle and broad oppression, it must begin with our creative capacity. It will begin with people defying their stereotypes, using the whole of their potential to address the world around them. Such people have always been responsible for the great advances witnessed throughout history, and they will be the ones to lead us in the future. Be one of those people. Explore, create, innovate, express. Don’t stay in your lane.