The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 27, 2023 - 2:10:42

A conversation at the gym about obedience vs. creativity

Katie van Schaijik, Feb 15, 2013

This is not the longer post—which is beginning to approach booklength— I'm working on about the relation between God's will and ours.  But it's related.

I went to a cardio/dance class at the gym today.  I've been to several now of this kind.  Some I love and some I can't stand.  The ones I love are the ones that play oldies and get us dancing simple, coreographed routines:

"Up four, back four, grapevine, now turn!  Feel that beat!  Cha-cha-cha now!  And back, cha-cha-cha!"

They're like Zumba, but with friendlier music and less suggestive movements. I like learning the steps.  I like the way getting the steps right makes me feel like I'm really dancing and forget I'm working out.

The classes I can't stand are the ones where they play New Agey music and encourage us to "be creative".  

"Dance your own dance.  Move around the floor.  Move in all different directions. Look at the people around you.  Dance with them."

Way to make us all feel completely awkward and self-conscious.

After class today, I told the teacher how much I prefer the one kind over the other.  I told her I prefer learning how to dance from her—copying her steps.  Here's what she said in reply:

"I know what you mean.  I used to be like that too.  I was trained by 12 years in Catholic school to always do what I'm told.  It's uncomfortable to do your own thing."

This gave rise to two reflections.  One is that obedience and freedom are not opposites, as she seemed to assume.  As a matter of fact, I feel distinctly freer in copying a skillful dance instructor than I do in trying to come up with my own moves.  This is because she's drawing from a much wider range of possibilties and a much higher degree of skill than I am.  

The second is that it's sad that people associate Catholicism with unfreedom: with being trained to do what you're told, with being fearful of creativity and individuality.

There is a resolution to these seemingly opposite reflections.  It has to do with right maturing.  Obedience (typically) precedes creativity.  First we learn obedience, then, as we grow in skill and understanding, we are in a position to exercise meaningful creativity, using the whole range of possibility we have acquired by practicing obedience.

Skip the obedience part, and we'll lack the skill to create something worthwhile.  But, fail to move beyond mere obedience and our creative powers as persons will never be duly realized.  It's called, in analogous situations "arrested development."