Some Thoughts on Creativity . . . And Life


Anthony J. Marsella – TRANSCEND Media Service

Cooking Pasta Sauce . . .

My mother, of Sicilian ancestry, stood before the stove making sauce for a pasta dinner.  She was uneducated — a ninth-grade dropout – a human being of no recognized distinction by society beyond their ascribed status markers — women, unmarried, middle-aged, lower SE class, white, poor.  Certainly, she occupied no status as an artist or person of special talent beyond her role as mother and housekeeper.  Yet, I believe that her act of cooking pasta sauce reveals the nature of creativity, and why creativity is reflected in all of our behaviors that are permitted to express and demonstrate our individual uniqueness – our life impulse to make visible and apparent our distinct endowment of life.  She used no recipe, each time she cooked pasta the sauce was unique, but each was always tasty and satisfying in their way.  There is a lesson in that fact!

Because of limited scientific and professional views on the nature, description, and demonstration of creative impulses, few scientists or professionals would think of her as being highly creative.   She speaks as she cooks — smelling and tasting the sauce, adding a bit more garlic, basil, salt, pepper – a little bit of this, a little bit of that — she smiles and gestures with her hand commenting on various topics as she cooks – children, family, furniture, a score of memories from days of her youth, she jokes and offers wisdom.

My mother’s cooking, in this moment, is an entire “creative” package, deserving of praise, recognition, and insight. As while my mother brings dimensions of her person – inherited and acquired (i.e., values, style, skills) to her cooking, she is engaging in creativity – she is evidencing the life impulse to interact within a situation to encourage, facilitate, improve, expand her individual and our collective effort as human beings after existence.  She will receive a hug and kiss, and gestures of gratitude and appreciation from those who eat her pasta sauce.  She will smile, and dismiss the words with modesty.  In those moments, however, there is so much to grasp and understand about “creativity” in our daily, and how widespread it is, and how much we need to do to encourage and sustain creativity because it is life itself, present in each of us as carriers of the life impulse.

Rethinking Creativity . . .

I say this because, in my opinion, we have become caught in our conventional views regarding the nature of creativity – its sources, manifestations, and consequences. As psychologists, we have defined creativity, measured it, appraised and evaluated it – and in the process – restrained its meaning and implications. Unfortunately, we make far too many distinctions between “creative” and “non-creative” people, focusing on the wonderful talents of artists, poets, and scientists whose contributions are, indeed, awe inspiring and deserving of reverential praise and respect.  But, I believe we are missing a very important point.

Creativity is inherent in the life impulse itself!  It is present in all forms and expressions of life that exist across the diversity spectrum from microscopic organisms to exceptional human beings gifted with special talents and skills that enable them with each work to bring novelty, freshness, and wide-spread appeal to their “creations.”  Life is creativity, I say again and again, and when we insist on homogenized standards and conformity in behavior via various societal institutions we are, in fact, losing the wonderful evolutionary gift to recognize and to respond to the essential need for diversity.

We ask why our schools are failing, and we provide hundreds of answers to the problem.  Yet, too often, we forget that our schools have become institutions that are part of a larger system societal system, in which maintaining the system’s order and coherence is more important than the students and their unique needs.  I recognize the burdens we face — especially education system costs, crowded classes, problem students, inadequate teachers, and teaching processes that are geared toward mass education, and cannot accommodate individual lives – even as our impulses are good and well-intentioned.  Yet, if we proceed from the needs of a system to perpetuate itself at any cost, can we begin the process of change?


In essays I have written about “lifeism,” I have come to see — creatively — that creativity abounds all around us. It is the effort after expression within the limitations of its setting and resources; it is the effort to survive, and to become all we can be within the situation.   In my writings on “lifeism,” I have come to see that a “weed” can be motivated by hope to exist – to survive — under brutal conditions.  This is true for all living organisms, and within limitations, each effort to express uniqueness is a creative act.  Thus, for me, at this point in my thinking, all expressions reflect creativity (e.g., clothes, speech, gait, movement, style).  They are simply, or complexly, an organism’s covert and overt demonstration of its contribution to diversity.

I will close with an editorial comment that I have come to see is a critical challenge in our global era.  Diversity, as a manifestation of life, is present and widespread.  But there are forces, events, and people in positions of power that are destroying diversity in favor of homogenization of our world – our cultures, our environments, and even, human nature. Diversity, through life itself, is considered too difficult to accommodate by those in power, and so they are seeking to move us toward uniformity and conformity.  How much easier to control!  How much easier to dominate!  Consider the pantheon of “Big” in our world today – Big Pharm, Big Ag, Big Energy, Big Transportation, Big Education, Big Auto, Big Med, Big Government, Big Military, and “Banks too Big to Fail,” so  they remain in control of our lives and life.  Everything is moving toward massive and disproportionate levels of control – monopolies of products, person, society, nation, and world.  These monopolies destroy life because of their power to impose self-serving interests – their recipes for preserving power, position, and wealth.

Eventually, I fear, had my mother lived in coming decades, they would have destroyed her unique and distinct creative impulses in cooking and other avenues of her expression that did not follow recipes imposed on life. Their acts restrict evolutionary possibilities of life to a limited future under their control and service.  Dystopia!   Buon appetito!  Manga! 


Anthony Marsella, Ph.D., a  member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and popular pieces. He can be reached at


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Mar 2014.

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