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Taking the Creative Initiative to Be Kind

Some of you may have heard about my family’s recent run in with an horrendous stomach bug. We were on Gulang Yu when my brother came down with it first. He was so sick we thought it was food poisoning. When I came down with it the next night we realised it must be a stomach bug. The following night my father endured its horrors. Thankfully we were able to shield my grandmother and mother from its worst effects. I will spare you most of the icky details. I mention it for one purpose – to tell you of an amazingly kind act.

On the night of the 14th I went through 7 hours of hell. During that time, I discovered I am an epically loud vomiter. Mum later said it sounded like I was in labour. My brother says it’s the sound a person makes when they are very scared and gripped by despair, willing the ordeal to be over. He made the same sound, and the next night my father would experience it too. However, at that point in time my father had never vomited in his life. He had no idea what it felt like. All he knew was his little girl was suffering. And so he walked into the bathroom, held me close and stroked my head. While I made all manner of noises, he just held me.

Both of us agree that it is something we would be very happy never to experience again, nevertheless I will treasure that memory and his kindness for as long as I live. Why? Because even though he had at that point never experienced what I was going through, he took the initiative to do the one thing he could think of to help – even though it meant personal discomfort. (I have since discussed this event with him in the context of creative thought, and he said he was definitely using his imagination at the time – imagining himself anywhere in the world but there. Still, that’s using Creativity, right?)

Creative Kindness

How do you feel when you see someone suffering? Naturally we all want to help. Even when words fail us, we still have the overwhelming urge. Our empathy kicks into gear and we start looking for ways to help.

A magazine I read once about helping people who have lost a loved one in death mentioned that we all say, “If there is anything you need, just let me know.” While we sincerely mean that we would do anything to help, we leave it up to the bereaved person to decide how we can help. The problem is, usually the person is so distraught or anxious not to put others out that they never take you up on the offer. Think about it. When was the last time someone rang you up and said, “I really need you to cook me a meal,” or “Could you help me with some cleaning”? Most times people who are grieving, or sick, or dealing with other emotional trauma don’t really know what they need.

At times like this, a little creative thought and initiative are called for. For instance, instead of saying, “Perhaps I can help out with a little housework sometime,” why not say, “I’ll do some vacuuming for you. How does Tuesday morning sound?” Or even better, why not just start vacuuming, or ironing, or washing? Perhaps bake a cake or a casserole and take it around. Use your Creativity to find a need and fill it, especially if all the obvious ones are taken.

Of course, we wouldn’t want to impose our presence and our help where it is not needed or wanted, but often you’ll find a little bit of friendly initiative is very welcome. In fact, very simple and seemingly insignificant acts on our part take on far greater meaning to someone who is suffering.

The Act of Being There

The opportunity for expressing kindness doesn’t necessarily stop a couple of weeks after a traumatic event. Sometimes the person’s physical and emotional pain continues on for months or years. Anniversaries of the event or other times that may cause painful memories to resurface are opportunities for you to show care and understanding to the person. Perhaps if your friend has lost a spouse, why not drop by on their wedding anniversary and offer a listening ear? Be there to reminisce, or distract if necessary. Show that you recognise the significance of the day and the pain they may be feeling.

While we ourselves may never have experienced the circumstance our friend is going through, and we would want to avoid saying, “I know exactly how you feel,” imagining what is involved in their situation can provide us with greater understanding. This understanding can lead to kindness and helpfulness in uniquely creative ways.

Often those acts of kindness hold a special place in the hearts of our friends and family.

Have you ever experienced someone’s creative kindness?

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

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Being the Creative ‘Freak’

Being a westerner (with very white skin) travelling in China means I get stared at. A lot. Gulang Yu has far more Chinese tourists than Western tourists. In fact, having a Westerner here is quite the novelty apparently. People get out their cameras and snap photos of me as I pass. Groups of people point me out and discuss the idiosincracies of white people among themselves. I almost expect the little tour buggies to call out ‘And if you look to your left you’ll see a Westerner walking past.’  The Chinese even have a special term for foreigners – ‘lao wai.’ It’s very easy to pick out in their conversations. ‘Look! Lao wai!’

Being stared at all the time can make you self conscious, almost as if you were a freak of some kind. (I wonder if this is what celebrities feel like.) And, if you’re not careful, you can end up becoming jaded and annoyed by the constant attention. You may even view the people as inconsiderate or uneducated.

The interesting thing is most people who stare are just curious, not deliberately being impolite or invasive. If you begin talking to them, especially if you can talk to them in their own language, you quickly discover that they’re happy to be friendly. They want to know where you come from. You repay the complement and ask where they’re from. And the conversation continues on to other enjoyable subjects.

While it’s true that not every person who stares at you is someone you’d want to initiate a conversation with, once you do start talking to people, they usually stare at you with far more accepting and friendly eyes.

What does this have to do with being creative?

The Creative Stereotype

Have you ever been stared at or singled out because of your creativeness? Perhaps you’re hesitant to allow your creativeness to grow because you’re afraid of the stares and attention. ‘Creative People’ have reputations to live up to, right? They’re supposed to wear colourful scarves, drink mocha chinos and speak in the third person. Oh, and they don’t actually do anything.

In reality, people exhibit their creativeness in many different ways. (And here’s a little secret, the people who vigorously perpetuate the ‘creative stereotype’ of eclectic, unreasonable artiest  are usually overcompensating for their lack of actual creativeness.) You don’t have to be a ‘social misfit’ to be creative. You just have to be you, in whatever form that takes. If you feel creative and you’re happy, then go with it!

Sharing Who You Are

There are always going to be those friends and family members who will turn to you and say, “So what exactly is it you do?” or “You’re not going to go all ‘writerly/artsy/philosophical’ on us, are you?” They seem to pin the label ‘creative’ on you as if you’re a foreigner.

While that can be annoying and even make you feel like your creativeness is something to be ashamed of, often this situation can be overcome by simple conversation. Try letting them into your world – share a couple of ideas, or explain a current project. Often times their cynical stares turn into stares of curiosity. Gradually they become intrigued and even excited. Some may eventually become important parts of your support network.

Sometimes it takes an example of your work to win them over. I had a friend who loved to read. We would always talk enthusiastically about books we’d been reading and recommend titles to each other. Every now and then I’d tell her about a writing project I was working on. Although she was never rude or belittling of my ideas, I would notice her enthusiasm decrease. One day I gave her two short stories I had written. The next time I saw her she was very excited about my work and told me I needed to continue writing. I realised that her lack of enthusiasm was simply because she never had opportunity to see what I’d been doing. Once given that opportunity, she had something to comment on and encourage.

Not everyone who stares at you or points you out as different is being mean or showing distain. Sometimes they’re noticing what makes you special. And if someone notices you’re special, then perhaps they’re the right person to befriend.

Have you discovered a new friend this way?

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art