Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Spirit of Exploration

(Note:  Please forgive today’s fragmented post.  If I were a writer, I would take more time to edit and refine my words.  Obviously, I’m not a writer.) 

When I was a kid, I loved to explore.   That simple desire opened the floodgates of my imagination.  As a child, I trekked across Antarctica in my dog sled.  I journeyed to distant planets as an astronaut.  I searched magical woods, surveyed the ocean floor, and reached the peaks of the highest mountains, all without leaving my own back yard.   As I grew older, my desire to explore continued, but extended beyond my own home.  I lived in a rural, farming town and had the opportunity to explore mountains and forests.  I discovered wonderful things like tadpoles in shallow lakes that formed when the snows melted and lasted only a few short weeks.  I walked the hills looking for arrow heads left behind by Native Americans.  I drove along winding dirt roads, just to know where they went.  Today, that sense of exploration continues, but it has evolved.  I find myself exploring ideas, concepts, and thoughts.  I ask “what if?”  I draw, paint, write, and then try to share my explorations with others.

At the root of exploration is Curiosity.  It’s a desire to know what is “out there.”  Children are naturally very curious, but their ability to explore is restricted by parental impatience, age, ability, and fear.  As children grow into adulthood, some stay curious, but many of lose their desire to explore.  Exploration is risky.  And when you have bills to pay, you shy away from risk.  You stifle your curiosity.  You settle into routine.  You become concerned with comforts.  You worry about entitlements.  You work hard for your home, your cars, and your flat screen televisions and that is good enough. 
That scares me.
And it’s an attitude that’s becoming more prominent in our culture.  For example, when I was in elementary school, astronauts were honored and shuttle launches were broadcast, but today, we no longer value space exploration as we did in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.  Why?  Because many think it is frivolous to spend money on exploration, on curiosity.  Not to mention, space exploration is risky.  People can die.  But when did Americans become afraid to take risks?     Risk-taking is vital to innovation and creativity.  when we take risks, we’re bound to make some mistakes, but we’re also going to discover some revolutionary advancements along the way.
Have you noticed we now live in a world where “standard” is considered good?  We require “standard” in our education systems.  We are pushing “standard” in health care.  We set “standards” for near everything.  But if you look up “standard” in the dictionary you’ll find a lot of words like “average”, “common”, and “normal."  And, with regard to the beef industry, “standard” is one step down from “good.”   Now, I agree that there is some nobility in trying to make sure everyone reaches a certain “standard”, but it can only be done by pulling down or taking away from those above said standard.  Standards restrict the spirit of exploration.  They limit creativity, and should be used sparingly.
I believe that compulsory standards may help a few, but overall they have a detrimental effect on the advancement of civilizations and the human race.  I don't believe that government intervention is needed to fix all (or even most) of our problems.  What we need is innovation (builders building what dreamers dream).  We need people willing to take risks in order to solve problems.   
As an artist and educator, I worry that we are robbing future generations of the magic of exploration.  We are teaching them it’s wrong to be curious.  We are pulling down creativity and innovation.  And we are left with nothing but “standard” answers where “exceptional” solutions are needed.

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