Sometime ago I came across an interesting essay by self-anointed provocateur Christopher Hitchens about Animal Farm, an evergreen masterpiece by George Orwell. The essay talks about the book’s birth, teething problems and everlasting relevance. However, what caught my attention was this paragraph taken from Orwell’s own introduction to the book.
“ . . for the past ten years I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the socialist movement. On my return from Spain I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone . . . However, the actual details of the story did not come to me for some time until one day (I was then living in a small village) I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.”
This is a very interesting example. An acute need to express something – continuous search for a medium to do it – and a situation providing the ultimate ‘illumination’. Wolfgang Kohler, a Gestalt Psychologist, pointed out that an insight is the result of a dynamic interaction between the person and the situation. Many of us nurture similar desires to express several ideas, opinions etc. However, the reason why many of us cannot convert a ‘raw’ idea into a ‘product’, is because of this lack of ‘dynamic interaction’. We fail to interact with our situation. We fail to read our surroundings. So many stories, poems, novels, haikus, dramas are floating all around us. George Orwell can read it. I can’t. Do you?
How can we learn to interact with our situations? Certain mental habits may facilitate this. A persistent quest – ‘Prichchha’ – a persistent habit of questioning – a persistent habit of noting down details could help. Many studies in Psychology have found that a dialectical mind – a questioning mind – an observing mind – brings out better insights. Albert Rothenberg studied 22 Nobel Laureates, and found that the common differentiating factor among them was a dialectical mind – constantly looking for gaps, the unexplained, the contradictory, the anomalous, the odd.
Maybe we should also develop this quality – who knows – our masterpiece might just be lying next to us.
Khandwalla, Pradip (2003). Lifelong Creativity. Chapter 6. Pages 90-92. Tata McGraw-Hill, India.
Kohler, Wolfang (1947). Gestalt Psychology
Rothenberg, Albert (1996). “The Janusian process in scientific creativity”, Creativity Research Journal. Vol.9(2&3), pp. 207-231