Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
Some days it's hard to be optimistic when you consider the madness of this world. On the worst days mankind seems destined for meaningless self-destruction that will likely drown the planet, as well. But on better days, a bit of hope pierces the waves of insanity, like a lifeline leading us to the surface for a precious breath of air.
I found such a lifeline of hope in Mick Ebeling's TEDTalk "The Invention that Unlocked a Locked-in Artist," which describes his team's creation of a tool called the EyeWriter. This amazing technology allowed graffiti artist Tempt to draw once again for the first time in seven years, even though totally paralyzed with ALS. Now Mick and his collaborators offer the software and code for the EyeWriter online so that all other victims of paralysis can benefit from their invention at no charge.
This story is remarkable for many reasons, but most importantly, because it demonstrates how the mysterious force of creativity works in the world to solve seemingly insurmountable problems. And right now -- when thousands of children die of starvation every day, young men commit horrific acts of mass destruction, governments stagnate in greed, and catastrophic climate change threatens all of life -- this lesson is needed more than ever.
In the video, when describing the experience of finally drawing again after a seven-year hiatus, Tempt wrote, "I felt like I had been held underwater and someone finally reached down and pulled my head up so I could take a breath." Creative inspiration is the breath that is necessary for life to endure and that saves us from drowning in futility.
Just as Mick's idea led to the invention that allowed Tempt to "take a breath" by making his graffiti art again, our own creativity can produce solutions to the problems we face. But we must first learn how to optimize the power of inspiration as Mick's story demonstrates:
Patience is part of the process.
Suffering can break down our complacency and push us to our limits as we struggle for that next breath of air. When we confront suffering with courage we open the door for new creative solutions to emerge. -- Karen M. Wyatt, M.D.
For seven years, Tempt was unable to express his artistic gift due to his paralysis and had no choice but to wait and wonder if that would ever change. Even after Mick conceived the idea for the new technology that gave Tempt a tool for his art, it took over a year for the final product to be completed. Creativity surfaces in its own time frame and cannot be rushed.
Suffering sparks creativity.
Mick's inspiration for the EyeWriter was triggered when he connected with Tempt and felt the deep pain of this artist whose talent had been suppressed by illness. Suffering can break down our complacency and push us to our limits as we struggle for that next breath of air. When we confront suffering with courage we open the door for new creative solutions to emerge.
Creativity demands collaboration.
The EyeWriter was a product of collaboration between Mick, his programming team, and Tempt, whose great artistic talent provided the original inspiration for Mick's idea. The problems now facing the world are vast and complex and their solution requires us to conspire -- to "breathe together" -- and share our creative visions and efforts.
Audacity is key.
Mick offered Tempt and his family "100 percent commitment" toward finding a way for Tempt to draw again even though, in his words, he had "no freaking idea" how to accomplish the task. This bold assertiveness, along with stubborn determination, will be necessary in order to rescue the world from its overwhelming difficulties. Mick's belief that "there has to be a way" sustained him through this process of creation and must become a driving force behind our own efforts to find solutions.
These are perilous times for mankind on planet Earth. The odds appear to be stacked against our survival as we look ahead to the future. But if we have learned anything at all about creativity from Tempt and Mick and the miraculous EyeWriter then we should know that these are precisely the circumstances that favor inspiration: we are going under for the third time and desperately need to be pulled up for air.
Where will the spark of creativity occur that changes everything? When will the inspiration arise and will it come soon enough? There are no answers for these questions at this time, so we simply have to wait while the mystery unfolds. But each of us can assist the process by taking a deep breath and remembering that there has to be a way... there has to be a way.
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