When I think of a prison, what comes into my mind? Barred windows. Why is that? Have I ever been in a real prison? No. Have I ever even met anyone who was in prison? Not really.
My idea of bars come from films, cartoons, books. However, I never had a chance to find out for myself if, instead of bars, prisons have heavy duty glass. Or maybe that they don’t have windows at all. Or maybe the windows are the last thing one notices when inside a prison.
An artistic mind questions everything that it holds true by asking: is it really true, or is it just what I’ve been led to believe?
On a Facebook group for writers I read a question along these lines: “I am writing a love interest for my main character, would you ladies help me to understand what qualities do you prefer in a man?”
This question made me think a lot - and even write a blog post about it. The writer wanted to simplify reality by grouping the preferences of all members of a very heterogeneous group - women. Did it make sense? What were the implications? Is this as bad as it sounds?
My first reaction was - this stereotypical views may lead the writer to produce a predictable and unoriginal story. If, on the other hand, the writer focus on the peculiarities of this particular woman, the chances of a better story improve much. The best stories have multidimensional characters, the ones who do unexpected things. If a character is stereotypical, it will be much harder for people to relate to it.
"But… there are some characteristics that a high percentage of women I know share. Could I use that fact to make assumptions about someone I don’t know?"
Having a broad understanding of what a diverse group of people is like may be quite useful to produce small talk in a party, or for marketing. That broad understanding, which can also be labelled as prejudice, assumes that a vast number of people will share some common qualities. It is easy to see how this would help a company trying to sell their product. If companies have an idea that the majority of football fans are men, DIY enthusiasts and like cars, then Volkswagen and Screwfix will advertise between football matches.
Whereas generalist views of the world are very useful in those circumstances, when we are trying to cultivate an artistic mind, this stereotypical vision is a big stumbling block. An artistic mind is curious and takes nothing for granted – let alone assuming that the lad watching football at the pub really wants a new car for Christmas. An artistic mind sees beyond the obvious, and questions what it thinks it knows. In that way, it is quite scientific in its approach to the world.
Therefore, when looking at the world with an artistic eye, follow the first rule: doubt everything. What if? What if the boring clerk in the post office is actually a secret agent? What if the tired parent who can’t control their child is writing a literary masterpiece?
Next time you meet someone new, start with a clean state of mind. As much as possible, get rid of all the presumptions you would have about what that person is like. The way they dress, the way they talk, what they do – look at those things and try to see beyond them. Talk with the person as if you were talking to a stranger on an online chat. Do this with someone you will be able to know relatively well – for example, a new work colleague, or a friend of a friend.
Once you know quite a bit about them, reflect on the following:
Are they as you would have expected them to be?
Would assumptions have helped you knowing that person quicker, or would they have hindered your relationship?
We all have prejudices. We may think of ourselves as cosmopolitan and accepting of other cultures, but there will always be a group of people that we have a prejudice against.
Some of us might be prejudiced against rich old people. Others may tend to avoid girly, bubbly women. I know I have a slight prejudice against bankers.
My second suggestion is: try to get to know someone from a group of people you don't like. Open a space in your heart, try to find the points in contact between the two of you, as if you were looking for a well hidden treasure.
I can't promise you that you'll make a new friend, but hopefully it will be a step in your quest for an artistic mind (: