Menace to Society

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We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.

Charles Swindell

What happens when our creative energies go “un” or “under” utilized? What are the dangers when we fail to deploy our full capacities into the world? What is at risk when we refuse to find or embrace our purpose and walk toward the full potential of our being?

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

The questions above are at the center of the story in the recent comedy, Where’d You Go Bernadette. The film is an adaptation of the 2014 novel of the same name written by Maria Sample. The story follows the life of Bernadette Fox, played by Cate Blanchett, an eccentric mother of a highly intelligent daughter and wife of a genius information technology executive, who we eventually learn was once a brilliant architect and designer. The movie follows her bizarre quirks which humorously escalate into behavior destructive to herself and to those around her. Eventually, she finds herself running off to Antarctica as her husband seeks to intervene with the help of a psychologist.

As Bernadette moves through her days struggling with her current life and its petty annoyances turned into immense issues, we learn that she walked away from a very promising career as an architect and stopped working altogether after her brilliantly designed “20 Mile House” was surreptitiously bought and demolished by her obnoxiously wealthy neighbor. The movie comes to a head during a breakfast with former colleague Paul Jellineck (played by Laurence Fishburne), who, after hearing her lament her life asks: “Are you finished?” He follows up poignantly: “People like you must create. If you don’t, you become a menace to society.”

Creative Energies

How many of us are a menace to those around us because our creative energies are not fully deployed? You may think, “What creative energies? I’m no artist.” Au contraire! We all have a deep capacity for the creative and our art may not be of the “fine” variety. It’s easy to exaggerate artistic eccentricities to help tell a story. However, Bernadette’s “menace” reflects a danger relevant to all of us.

What did Thoreau mean when he said that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”? Thoreau is referencing misplaced value, our efforts to fill our voids with the wrong things: money, possessions, and accolades. When they don’t fill the voids, we seek more. Thoreau’s basic answer was simplicity but I think Jellineck may be closer to the right answer. Desperation comes when we don’t see and/or fully engage our creative energies. The voids, and dissatisfactions, come when we continually fail to pursue the full extent of our potential.

Problems to be Solved

On the surface, interchanging the notion of our potential with our creative energies may seem a bit odd. Many of us would not consider ourselves creative in the least nor associate it at all with what we are capable of. The mistake is to confuse being creative with traditionally artistic notions: drawing, designing, painting, crafting, etc. In truth, the most elemental form of creativity is problem solving. At its most basic, our existence is a string of problems waiting to be solved. Taking the notion one step further, our potential is our capacity to solve the problems we face over the course of our life.

If our potential is our capacity to solve the problems we face, and our ability to solve our problems is dependent on our creative energies, then the notion of creativity takes on new meaning in the context of our existence. With this logic, reaching our potential now reflects our ability to move past the challenges we encounter and deploying our creative energies effectively is integral to that process. Conversely, when we don’t effectively use our creative energies to move toward our potential, we become a menace to ourselves and those around us because of the unhappy sensation of failing to solve our problems.

Creative Potential

We are made to fully deploy our creative energies into the world. Our design is hopeful and progressive. Our call is to be all that we are capable of being. Growing, evolving, and transforming into that best version of ourself is our purpose and anything less is unsatisfying and incomplete. Part of your creativity may be bound into your outstanding design skills. However, your greater gift is that creative essence that helps you grow past the barriers into the you, you were meant to be.

What is at risk when we refuse to find or embrace our purpose and walk toward the full potential of our being? Everything. Refuse to live a life of “quiet desperation.” See the hopeful possibility in the life in front of you, then bring the full weight of your creative energies to bear on each and every challenge you face. Through that process, you will move toward your potential and the joyfully satisfying sense of fullness that it promises.

Showing 4 comments
  • Trish Berry

    Good morning. Very thought provoking!

  • Rebecca Seifert

    very thought provoking indeed

  • Bob Huba


    This brings to mind a quote from Mary Oliver “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

    Perhaps that is what creates the “menace to society” – the regret that we know we are not “living up to our potential”. We waste our days doing “busywork” and not getting to use or develop our creative potential. And it makes us unhappy and dissatisfied to the point we are hard to live with – a “menace to society”.

    As a case in point my son works in a job where he is not provided the opportunity to use his skills,creativity, and knowledge to make the situation better – and truthfully it is the smaller petty annoyances that are probably easily resolved if anybody would listen that really create the issues rather than the big more unchangeable issues. He is finally able to more to a better situation and I can see the difference in his attitude already.

  • Jerry Berry

    I sometimes wonder who you get your inspirations for topics from. Have you noticed that your friends and associates are less open to conversations or share their thoughts more cautiously? Is your inner circle getting smaller? Sorry probably too much idle time on my hands.

    Just kidding…

    Nice piece Phillip!

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