A big killer of creativity is having your creativity coercively diverted for someone else’s purposes

“[To ask whether taking children seriously coerces children into being creative] would be like asking “does not murdering people coerce them into living?” You are not forcing them to be creative, you are just giving them the opportunity to decide for themselves.”
– Nick


From the archives: The original post was posted on 28th April 1996

“I’ve never paid a whole lot of attention to the argument that noncoercive parenting increases creativity. What difference would it make? You treat kids as if their opinions matter because their opinions do matter.”

But most people only treat their kid’s opinions as important when they agree with them. When (most) parents hear an idea from their child that they strongly dissagree with they take their own opinion in the matter to be the last word. It is usually assumed that in such situations, the parent’s word is the last, but why should this be?

“I dropped a joking comment in front of Kathy, my SO, about the “fact that coercing kids results in reduced creativity” and she ended up asking a lot of uncomfortable questions, the biggest of which was, is creativity something you want to encourage in your child?”

From what you have said in your previous postings, I find it hard to believe that you found this question uncomfortable. I’m sure you were thrilled by it. The answer, however, is YES OF COURSE YOU DO.

“Creativity, she suggested, is the result of dissatisfaction with the way things are, which is another way of saying unhappiness. The oyster produces a pearl because a grain of sand is gritty and uncomfortable.”

Are you saying that the oyster is wrong to produce the pearl? Are you saying that it should go on being uncomfortable? If someone has a dissatisfaction with the way things then it is because for that person things are not perfect. If things are not perfect for one person, that means that not everybody is satisfied with them. If not everybody is satisfied then conditions are unsatisfactory, full stop. Some people say that they would rather be ignorant and happy than know more and be sad. But the problem is that you cannot be ignorant and happy, the ignorance prevents you from creating the happiness and leaves you with nothing. Creativity is not just “the result of dissatisfaction with the way things are”.

Unhappiness is the result of being unable to escape from a “dissatisfaction with the way things are”. Creativity is the only way to create knowledge, including the knowledge of how to become more happy. It can hardly be a good thing for everyone to be dissatisfied, yet not know how to deal with it, can it? That is unhappiness. Sometimes force can (temporarily) make some people a little happier at the expense of the suffering of others. Creativity is desirable because it is the only way to make things better for everyone.

“Are creativity and intelligence related? They did a study of MENSA members years ago, in which they found that there was no difference in MENSA members compared to the general population in any respect but two. They had no fewer or more kids, no less or greater wealth or career success, no longer or shorter lives, no more or less education, no better or worse health, no longer or shorter marriages. They did score higher on IQ tests, of course; MENSA is limited to the top 2% of intelligence. The other difference was that they seemed to be open to a wider variety of sexual practices. Does that translate as happiness? Or does the study overall say that happiness and intelligence are unreleated?”

I never mentioned any relationship between creativity and intelligence! Regardless of whether there is a relationship or not, this does not affect whether coercion affects creativity or not. A person’s intelligence is irrelevant in regards to their rights. Intelligence in not important to this case, happiness is however, though I never said there was a direct relationship between creativity and happiness either. Creativity does not die out just because of unhappiness. When you are unhappy you tend to devote more of your creativity to protecting yourself, and therefore have less left over for positive purposes, including developing more creativity. What is really a big killer of creativity, is having your creativity harnessed for someone else’s purposes. This is something which both school and parents often try to do (E.G.1 “Now class, you will all draw this pear and I know that you can do it because I have seen you draw well by yourself.”, E.G.2 “Come on dear, draw the nice building, just for me. You draw such nice things on your own, why don’t you do the same for me?”), and the failure of the children/pupils to perform adequately is interpreted as laziness, or a lack of sufficient creativity.

I’m speaking from experience here. I used to be a keen artist, and I would draw almost everything I saw. But the combination of school art lessons, and my parents dragging me out on trips to see famous churches, and keeping me there until I drew them satisfactoraly (by their standards) has caused such a deep hatred of art to boil up in me, that I now find it hard to draw things for myself anymore. I have taken to leaving the room whenever anyone mentions how they so like my drawings, because I know what they will ask me to do, and I don’t have the willpower to say no, and the result is even more loss of creativity.

“I asked Sarah if she knew of any studies relating happiness and creativity that would either refute or confirm Kathy’s suspicions. She gave a short reply, said she was short of time right now, and suggested that it would be a good question for the list.
           Does anyone know of any such studies?”

Yes. I have made such a study myself, and my findings are explained above. As for confirming or refuting her suspicions, I do not really consider the possibility of “solving problems being a bad thing” as being worthy of consideration. It is totally ridiculous to assume that the way to worldwide happiness is for everybody to force their children into a situation where they can’t think of a way of making themselves less unhappy. This is what she is saying, isn’t it?.

“How do you measure levels of happiness, anyway?”

You can’t. You can often, however, tell roughly how unhappy someone is, by talking to them (respectfully) about the subject. Saying, “are you happy at school dear” to a child is a) like saying “do your prefer this particular form of torture to the last”, and b) like trying to measure temperature with a geiger counter, because they aren’t likely to tell you the truth (unless the situation is really bad) because firstly, children are caring individuals, and would not want to hurt their parents’ feelings if they could possibly avoid it, and secondly, parents would probably dismiss the real answer if it conflicted with their theory of what the child must be feeling.

“(And someone is bound to ask this one solipsist’s delight eventually: Does noncoercive parenting actually coerce kids into being creative? <grinning, ducking, and running>)”

No. That is a stupid question. It would be like asking “does not murdering people coerce them into living?” You are not forcing them to be creative, you are just giving them the opportunity to decide for themselves.

The uncreative kid,


See also:

Nick, 1996, ‘A big killer of creativity is having your creativity coercively diverted for someone else’s purposes’, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/a-big-killer-of-creativity-is-having-your-creativity-coercively-diverted-for-someone-elses-purposes

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