The Case for Being Mindless

Posted on by Dodge

Ross Danis, Program Director, Education


So much of our culture supports being “mindful.” The ability to store and quickly access information is highly prized in school and in our personal and professional lives. But the process of being creative or the act of creativity often involves allowing the mind to wander, to not think, to daydream, to de-focus.  And if you read my earlier post on the creativity gap, then you know that I believe we should be doing more to foster creativity.

Native Americans sometimes refer to “cricket talk” as what takes place in the brain when we just keep rehashing all the stuff we already know. It is believed that new ideas—things we don’t already know—can only emerge in the mind when we shut down the noise, turn off our logical-analytical brains, dial down the “cricket talk,” and just be.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that has little tolerance for daydreaming and “flights of fancy.” Just think of the parents who are gravely warned that Johnny has trouble staying focused, or that Jessica lets her mind wander sometimes. I want to say, “Yes, and?” Sadly, if such behavior persists in children, adults begin to call it Attention Deficient Disorder.  Of course, there are times when ADD is a legitimate diagnosis, but I believe it is overdiagnosed. Imagine someone telling young Ben Franklin to stop flying that kite and get back to his real work, or telling young Leonardo da Vinci about the folly of his observations of birds and his drawings of helicopters. What a challenge Robin Williams must have been in third grade!

the-little-princeOnce, many years ago, I taught a lesson on the book The Little Prince to a group of eighth graders. All completed projects on the book. Many of the students created lovely mobiles that retold the story. One young lady brought in her cello and played a nine-part cello piece she composed, which musically illustrated the themes of the Little Prince. Pretty cool, huh? Where did that come from if not from letting the mind wander a bit?

Maybe it is time to stand up for daydreaming and become advocates for a little mindlessness, all in the name of fostering creativity in ourselves and our children.

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5 Responses to The Case for Being Mindless

  1. An excellent post, hitting all the right marks. There is an interesting corollary on Go to their blog and watch Stuart Brown’s talk how play is a vital activity for all ages, and something we have lost (it is a recent post).

  2. The Little Prince Within Us

    The Little Prince so recently I have met
    He tells of travel, folly and regret
    With question and wonder he is sure to ask
    What draws us to each and every task
    Of what import is what we think and do
    If it does not hold what is good and true
    With love he does tame and so he does see
    One blossom of beauty among all that be
    Wherever he travels he questions anew
    Why do we do whatever we do
    He holds a blossom, a sunset, a star
    Venturing to lands near and far
    And what he tells us in his favored way
    Each sunset brings to this very day
    And so The Little Prince sets out to depart
    To his homeland from where he did start
    The Little Prince within us shall remain
    A blossom, a star, now to tame.

    The Little Prince
    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    Rose Marie Raccioppi
    APOGEE Learning Enhancement Training Systems
    The Academics and the Arts

    Thank you for this post. We weave common threads. I applaud your perspectives.

  3. Thank you. This week I will be taking a group of 8th graders through our park on a nature journaling exercise. I will steal shamelessly from your inspiration. What a wonderful way to start the day.

  4. Gina Sideris says:

    What an inspirational message to start the week. We are in a culture that pays lip service to creativity. The notion of “thinking outside the box” is lauded, but is not given much credibility, as stakeholders in any given situation (schools, businesses, society in general) cling to proven, safe options for carrying out their work. When we set forth the notion that a proper graphic representation of a tree is a green ball atop a brown stick, children will perform to that standard, and creative paralysis sets in quickly. Our challenge as educators is to create a framework to serve as their guideposts (or not), encourage expression of individual perspective, turn the kids loose on the opportunity, and then challenge our old mores by appreciating their results. Thanks!

  5. Arlene Milgram says:

    I enjoyed your article on “Mindlessness”. I agree with it completely. The problem is that in schools too often what is valued is measured, accountable results, getting students to give the same “right” answers. instead of looking for many answers or alternant solutions. Classes that allow for dreaming are too often considered “mindless” in the most negative way. As an art educator, I always have to justify the true learning that goes on in my class. Maybe the solution is to channel your idea of “Mindless” into a different kind of “ed-speak” word. In this left-brained educational system, language is everything. Imagine daydreaming, not assessment, as the new educational “flavor of the week”. All we need to do is come up with the perfect term and maybe then the arts will recognized and valued as the place where knowledge and reflection and creative thinking flourish. Instead of quantifying we can value that (“mindless”)/ substitute new word” time off task, when thoughts are gathered, creative connections can occur.

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