The Myth of Independence

So I was showing Real Genius to my kid yesterday, when something struck me about writing and the myth of independence.

Stay with me--it gets better.

Lesson One: Never eat what you find in the back of the lab.

I was revisiting the relationship of Mitch and Chris and Lazlo in their very-dated geeky backdrop of brain-crushing college when I noticed something I hadn't realized back in the 80's: while each of these guys was a certified (and often certifiable) genius, none of them achieved something truly great or groundbreaking until they were among other geniuses who pushed them to think beyond their boundaries.

See where I'm going here?

I have long believed that women in America suffer from this same illusion, which has stifled the feminist movement; not just the slippery slide from "you can do anything" to "you can do everything," but that this includes some weird belief that somehow it doesn't "count" unless you do it on your own. The bizarre myth that true greatness is achieved all by yourself is perpetuated by stories about our greatest inventors, writers and businessmen, as if they somehow appeared fully-formed like Athena from head of Zeus. It's part of the independence mythology of our nation that anyone could believe that Einstein or Tesla, J.R.R. Tolkein or Oscar Wilde, Steve Jobs or Michael Jordan could do what they did *all on their own.* No. Everyone who has ever achieved something amazing did so on the backs, shoulders, helping hands, pushing voices, collaborative ears and like-minded spirits of a team of coaches, colleagues and other brilliantly talented people sharing thoughts and resources. There is no single person--no matter how intelligent, talented, insightful, creative or gifted--who can reach their full potential sitting on their own in an empty room. None.

To think that writers can create their best work all on their own is equally ridiculous.

I know that I do my best thinking, writing and creative work among peers. I like to soundboard and talk about plot and character motivations. I like to throw ideas out and see what other people think. I like when I'm pushed and asked tough questions that I'm forced to think about in new ways. I have created characters or worlds and had others play in them, watching and listening and learning to what smart, savvy people come up with as solutions that I would NEVER have come up with myself in a million years.

Hermeneutics allows me to realize that as wide as I can open my mind, it's only so big. There's so much more that I don't know (and even more that I don't even know that I don't know!) and the only way that I can get a peek beyond my own curtain is to listen to other people, hear their truths, take on a new story, which always--*always*--enriches my own, whether in art or in life or on the page.

And that is where we find true genius: in the company of others.


2 Responses to “The Myth of Independence”

  1. I am with you once again. However, I tend to blindly agree with anyone that makes a real genius reference.

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