Like most of us, I have always wondered at the capacity of ‘geniuses’ to create something new. Their ability to bring to life what is unknown or unseen or unexpected. The way they bring out a new perspective about an ordinary object, bring it to a life in an enchanting and engrossing ‘metaphorical’ way, that otherwise lay lifeless in front of us for maybe even years.
Geniuses shape the world around them with their thoughts and actions and shape the world for a different tomorrow.
And they do it so effortlessly, so easily that leave all of us in their awe. Behind this thought about geniuses ability to create, lies the bigger question of ‘nature’ vs ‘nurture’. What exactly give birth to a genius? Where lies its fountainhead, that secret ingredient which makes them different? Is it in their genes or it lies in the kind of experiences they have in the formative years of life or after that.
I have always believed that it is the former that has the greater role to play. But recently I came across a quote about genius from ‘Sartre’ that challenged this belief.
Sartre called genius “not a gift, but the way a person invents in desperate circumstances.”
And it immediately took my mind to a passage in the book I read about the automobile company Toyota and its early founders, many many years back.
It said that —
“[…] ..We often assume that people who attain glory often preempt the success that lies ahead and so took the actions to make that glory happen. But in reality, these people, often young, often in poor circumstances took the steps out of sheer desperation… […]
The point that the author was trying to make was that it is the circumstances that shape a success, an opposing force or a resistance that makes people imagine what they’ve never imagined, to do what they’ve never done.
And isn’t it how nature works?
We just need to look around us to confirm this point. The shape of the leaves, the patterns of the snowflake, the different forms of geographical features,the courses that rivers follow, the mountains, the valleys, the volcanoes — all are formed under the influence of a resisting force. Without the existence of this shape-giving form-inducing force, they would have been lifeless, formless, existence less.
Even if we look at our bodies it is the opposing resistance that our bodies feel when we do any physical action that helps in its growth. There are stresses and strains that result in the formation of muscles in our bodies. In a gym every time you lift a weight there is first a microscopic wear and tear that stretches your muscles before it experiences a growth and leads to muscle building.
Isn’t it applicable for the human creativity, the genius we see around us?
Every new thing in this world is a result of one or the other opposing force — a necessity, a shortage, an inconvenience — a contradicting reality that makes us strive hard, to think, to reason, to challenge and to create something new. Something never heard of.
Great art is the work of attention and focus constantly working under the opposing forces of distraction around us.
Steve Jobs at one point in life was dabbling with karma, and drugs before he ended up becoming the main force that shaped the music and phone industry today. He wasn’t born with the ideas about music and phone industry. It was his experiences and how he dealt with them were the reasons that actually shaped his ideas and thinking that ultimately led to the revolution of mobile phones and music industry. And it wasn’t as easy as it looks today.
In light of these thoughts, a story I read about a man from India makes a lot of sense.
It was a story about a man who was an utter fool throughout his youth. So stupid that he would cut branches on which he sat. He ended up loving a princess and marrying her. But when his stupidity was revealed in front of princess and others he became an object of ridicule. Such was the shame and embarrassment he experienced that something sparked within him and he started studying so much and so hard that he ended up as one of the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit Language.
His name was Kalidasa, and he wasn’t born a genius.