Politics, Pandemics, and the Value of Creativity

Guest Correspondence

BY DR. LARRY THOMPSON SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY MAR 28, 2020

Creativity puts no limits on who we are or what we think. Politics, by contrast, often results in rigid definitions of who we are, which often translates into what we should believe. It is rare to find room for new thoughts and ideas in today’s political discourse. Unlike at the time of our nation’s birth, when our founding fathers were some of the world’s most creative people, today’s politicians have lost sight of the value creativity can bring to the problem-solving that is so vital to democracy. Today, the search for collaborative, creative solutions is often overshadowed by partisanship and the pressure to vilify those who sit across the aisle.

This is the political climate that we face as the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has grown to worldwide prominence. Our country has been impacted by this global pandemic just as states were gearing up to hold their Democratic primary elections. As guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraged us to limit gatherings of people to smaller and smaller numbers, campaigns were forced to completely reconsider their engagement strategies. No longer would historical models of shaking hands and kissing babies, massive political rallies, and debates before live audiences be possible if we were to work to contain the spread of this virus. Even voting has become problematic, as fewer people want to stand in line with hundreds of others waiting to cast their ballots.

In short, all of the usual political tools have suddenly been called into question by this insidious, invisible enemy. If ever there was a time to put partisanship aside and think creatively about not just the campaign process, but also meeting the COVID-19 challenge, it is now.

One challenge of leveraging creativity, according to Nicola Brown on skyword.com, is that “creativity and the arts have a tendency to be looked at as a decorative addition on top of the critical social, economic, and political fabric of a thriving society, rather than as an essential part of the picture.” Rather than an extra nice-to-have, Brown reminds us that “creativity is closely linked to our ability to solve problems, express ourselves freely, reflect critically, and achieve personal fulfillment and self-actualization,” which she argues are “the building blocks of a society’s social, economic, and political success.”

Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, writing for Forbes, asserts “the world needs creative thinkers in all disciplines; people who can tackle complex challenges and develop innovative solutions.” Klawe sees design thinking, a methodology that includes human-centered problem-solving, idea generation and experimentation to define and solve problems creatively as a key skill.

Certainly, candidates and campaign managers will be looking for innovative ways to get their messages out and engage with voters in exciting ways while helping to combat the spread of COVID-19. The impact of websites, blogs, video-sharing platforms, digital apps and social media, according to Diana Owen, professor of political science at Georgetown University, “have radically altered the way that government institutions operate, the way that political leaders communicate, the manner in which elections are contested, and citizen engagement.”

Will this pandemic be a watershed moment that paves the way for recognizing the value of creativity to politics? Only time will tell. Looking into our history, to our founding fathers, shows us wonderful examples of the power of creativity in politics. After all, it was these creative visionaries who imagined the foundation for this unique American democracy. As Benjamin Franklin, founding father, artist, and inventor, stated, “To cease to think creatively is to cease to live.”

Dr. Larry Thompson is president of Ringling College of Art & Design.           

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