Before you begin reading, a warning: this is going to be a nostalgic piece, so if you’re not ready for a roller-coaster ride down memory lane, maybe click over to a different article.
As a kid, I was most definitely a geek. But not a cool geek who could hack into the pentagon’s security systems; I was one of those really geeky geeks who collected dinosaur fossils and preferred to spend my Sunday afternoons pouring over books at the library, rather than shooting hoops on the basketball court.
One of my favorite pastimes is watching kids play. Almost always, as I watch their Lego fortresses take shape and their action figures assume life, I’m struck again and again with the question: where did my imagination go?
Why is it that as we “grow up”, we feel the need to become stern and serious, abandoning the fun, imaginative naivety we possess as children?
When I think back to my boyhood, three main themes stand out, apparent in the books I read, the posters that hung on my wall, the toys I played with and even in my career aspirations.
The first was of course King Arthur. As an avid reader who enjoys nothing more than getting lost in the intricate details of a good book, my favorite place to retreat to was King Arthur’s fantasy land, known as Camelot. Far more frequently than I attended class, I let myself get lost in the glorious stories of Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot and Guinevere. I must have read and reread every King Arthur book on inventory at the Bergen County Library, including history books on kings and knights in The Middle Ages.
The second, especially popular in the wake of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 box-office-hit, Jurassic Park, was Dinosaurs. I got my first college text-book at the age of 6, after begging my parents to buy me a 700-page encyclopedia of dinosaurs. If you woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me to detail the length and height of Parasaurolophus, chances are that I would have been able to provide the answer.
The Third, closest to reality, was a, borderline-unhealthy, obsession with the Solar System. Here I wasn’t completely at fault for two reasons: First, unlike dinosaurs, which are only arguably cool (See: Ross from Friends, Paleontologist), everyone agrees that outer-space is awesome. Second, the school-system seemed to be on my side with this one, putting a major stress in the third grade on memorizing all the planets. What they don’t tell you, however, is that being an astronaut is so much more than just memorizing the planets. Reading Joanna Cole and Bruce Degan’s The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System just won’t cut in when you get to your final exam in Astrophysics.
There is a reason why, as youth, we are so fascinated with these topics. As children, we are extremely driven by our imaginations, by our power to think outside of the box. All three of the topics mentioned require an ability to conjure up thoughts, images and ideas that are not apparent in our day to day lives, because of their relevance to either the past or the future. As we get older we surrender to the confines of the status quo, casting away our comic books and our action figures.
What we don’t realize is that our Imagination is not some useless children’s toy to be tossed aside; rather, it is one of our greatest personal assets. As adults, there is tremendous pressure to stifle our imagination; however, when channeled appropriately, imagination can be the trigger of our creative abilities, making us even better businessmen, engineers, doctors and the like.
As adults we are driven by knowledge, but it was Albert Einstein who said: “Imagination is more important than Knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world and all there ever will be to know and understand”. Thus, instead of abandoning it, as adults, we should continue to develop our imagination as the incredible creative force that it is, using it to be better parents, children and human beings.