A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein says, “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by the ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
When I was in the third or fourth grade our class took part in an art contest. We were each challenged to draw a picture representing one of the charities or nonprofits supported by the United Way. Despite my love of art, my skills in drawing, painting, and coloring leave something to be desired. We got out our pencils and crayons, put our small heads down, and started working with a sense of purpose that only elementary school students could. Many suns with smiles, fluffy trees, cartoon bees, and flat houses were drawn. I well into my “awkward flower” period during which I couldn’t figure how to draw a flower—I wish I had an example of those “flowers.”
At some point our teacher, who had been walking around the room, stopped behind one of my classmates and asked him what he was drawing. “The Salvation Army!” he responded holding his drawing proudly. His picture depicted a group of camouflage-clad men doing calisthenics and others saluting a flag. Our teacher eyed him and then his drawing again. She quietly said, “That’s not what the Salvation Army does.” After over 25 years, I remember our teacher tearing his paper up and making him start again, but in truth I imagine she retrieved a blank sheet and gave him another chance. What I remember clearly, though, is that his skills as an artist were far beyond mine and many of our classmates. Was he the next Rembrandt? Probably not, but I wonder what kind of artist he might have become had he been encouraged in his creativity rather made to conform to a set of guidelines?
Throughout my career in higher education, I encountered many students who were deeply creative and radically intelligent, but who had been judged by a rigid set of standards where their creativity could rarely shine through. One student could barely pass most of her classes yet could produce some of the most emotionally charged art I’ve seen. Another student couldn’t be bothered to pay attention in his classes but ask him about sports and he could give you a full analysis of almost any team or player. Some students were held to standards imposed on them by American education, some by the standards of parents who had planned out their futures, and some by their own sense of what it meant to be “good” or successful.”
While I could write several essays on the arbitrary rules and standards by which education, culture, society, and religion choose to judge us by, the fact is that we are all intelligent, we are all creative, and we are all wise. We just need to be encouraged. Who encourages you? Who helps you recognize your potential and inherent goodness?
Let us pray: God who knit us and fashioned us well, thank you for making us wise, bold, artistic,