Tag Archives: What ifs


Scholarship is not an enterprise limited to just one dimension. Or one discipline. That is why education has incorporated multiple fields of study for centuries. Included in the curriculum as distinct fields, overlapping only when one function is required as a tool to make other domains work. Such as the use of mathematics in the application of science and technology. Or the use of language in the study of history. Or the pairing of music and graphic arts. 

Who is to say that one subject is most important, or that a certain academic discipline is more indicative of human intelligence than any other? In like fashion, who is to say that creative thinking and acting are sparked by curiosity only within a specific intellectual pursuit?

Academic or intellectual snobbishness distorts creative thinking. It confines the human brain within categories or regions that exclude various possibilities, especially those that benefit from multivariate perspectives.

Possibly the most egregious example of that way of thinking was Nineteenth Century medicine, a field powerfully dominated by science and statistical analysis. It retarded the quality of human life for decades. Data and conclusions drawn by those declared to be especially sophisticated and learned superseded the “what if” of intellectual meandering to the point of peril.

Many horrible diseases and epidemics were not overcome until some courageous practitioner risked his or her professional career to try something previously unheard of. Something the sophisticates believed to be voodoo science or religious hocus pocus.   

Hypotheses are starting points for further research but were for years reduced to activities considered measurable in ways discernable only in concrete data. Which makes sense to those who believe in safeguards and the protection of professional credibility. And makes sense to me up to a point, the overdependence on statistical analysis.

Reasoned creativity is an important aspect of human life. The kind of creativity rooted in qualitative thinking and acting. The “what if” factor rooted in logic surrounded by mysteries as big and omnipresent as the universe in which earth is only a small and insignificant part.

Reasoned creativity is also relational. Our ideas and “what ifs” are never confined to one person’s brain or life experiences. Existence on this planet involves thousands of interdependent functions. Without them, the world would be devoid of anything more than rock.

My ideas are never born in one cell of my brain, or even thousands of cells. My ideas come from interactions with other human beings. A wide variety of experiences that become a conglomeration of viewpoints and perspectives.

Technical Creativity is Not Enough

In recent decades we have been asked to believe that creative thinking is most essential in the technical fields, through a plethora of amazing machines and other devices. Devices that entertain us, support the vehicles that move us from place to place, or make our homes safer and more convenient.

Our schools and universities are refashioning their academic programs to upgrade and expand majors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). No criticism there. Simply a commentary on what we value most in our society. Teachers and professors in the liberal and fine arts are either replaced or allowed to retire without filling the position with someone else.

Why do these trends matter? Because the language of creative thought is being constricted. Diminished to the point of excluding matters associated with ways of being and living. The kind of cognitive and emotional expansiveness influenced by great literature and spiritual influencers.

Pushed aside are Greek literature and philosophy, ancient poems like Beowulf, and other forms of literature from various cultures. All of them once an essential part of anyone’s education.

Language is now technically descriptive more than thought-provoking. Constructed in ways people who have nothing more than a fourth-grade education can understand it.

Much of today’s religious writing, with some remarkable exceptions, tends toward maxims based on right and wrong thinking and acting. Absolute and eternal-sounding directives. Technically reasonable in the sense of practical applications to everyday life.

Secular admonitions that correspond to absolutism overlap such theological approaches to learning. Allowing people to seek control of our lives. To use sound bites and words with alarming overtones to convince us their solutions to problems or controversial circumstances are immutable. 

Jesus Christ: Creative Thinker and Advocate

Jesus, Son of God, and the heavenly representative of God’s will for us, came among us to explain that our existence is dependent on more than following patriarchal rules of behavior and worship.

Jesus was God’s service to humanity.

His message from his father and our God turned civilization upside down. Making an abstract condition called love more important than any other driving force in our lives.

While sounding innocuous to modern people, Jesus’ message from God our creator to the residents of Judea and their earthbound rulers was threatening. Even dangerous. Unconditional love as the basis for all relationships violated good political and military order. Tested belief systems of those who appointed themselves representatives of faith in the Almighty. It broke down established hierarchies by creating an aura of acceptance. A bitter pill for those with money, property, and power.

Not much has changed in today’s world. Rejecting that creative message Jesus brought from God continues to present an extremely detrimental impact on human life. For those of us who believe that unconditional love, as the root of Christian faith, must ourselves find creative ways to reinstate or reinvigorate Christ’s major principle. For ourselves. For each other.

Not through technical tinkering but through finding and using better ways to communicate with those we care for now. For those we want to care for in the larger scope of things. Through our actions and our words. Through enlarging the idea and practice of love, as Jesus taught us to do.

To define “church” as both a place to worship and a repository of meaningful exploration. As both a place to reinforce our faith and a source of ideas that stimulate people in our larger community toward a clearer understanding of how unconditional love makes a difference. In ourselves as human beings. In our institutions such as schools and businesses. In our neighborhoods, both proximate and beyond.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved


Forrest Gump was the main character in a film of the same name. The fictitious storyline featured a young man played as an adult by Tom Hanks.

Both physically and mentally challenged, Forrest was born in deprivation. His personal challenges were mitigated somewhat by a loving mother and caring childhood friend.

Like all of us, Forrest could not control the circumstances of his birth. None of us control when and where we will be born, or the quality of the life that awaits us outside the womb. Neither can we control our DNA and genetic dispositions. Like all living things, some of us are more fortunate than others in how our brain and other internal parts work. Or do not.

What I find particularly intriguing about the Forrest Gump story is its underlying commentary about the nature of human characteristics, success, and failure.

Forrest was declared to be a cripple but later could run like the wind. He was considered inept physically but proved to be exceptionally well-coordinated and athletic. He was believed to be stupid but accumulated and used knowledge beneficial for becoming financially successful. His perceived lack of intelligence and perceptiveness was overturned by his intuitive nature.

Understanding his own limitations, Forrest was never judgmental. Nor could he understand why others must be judgmental. Accepting of his own limitations, he was capable of being open to others not so inclined.

Much about the Forrest Gump story is improbable to most of us. But we also eventually recognize that somewhere inside us is a little nugget of genius. Nothing that can be categorized or evaluated with a pencil and paper test. Or given a numerical or letter grade. Or placed on a comparative chart or bell-shaped curve.

Sometimes we fail to recognize that nugget of genius in ourselves. Even when it emerges full blown into a viewpoint or demonstration of skill previously unknown to us. It just shows up and seems to grow inside us until we begin to realize how it makes us special.

As Forrest realized when he took his son to the bus stop and waited on a bench for him to come home from school. He had an enormous capacity for unconditional love.

Who knows why things happen the way they do? As a man in his mid-80s I sometimes look back on my life with wonder. Much of it has been serendipitous, as with all of us.

Why didn’t my 1938 birth take place in Germany as a Jewish boy, instead of in upstate New York to parents who can trace their lineage to before the American Revolutionary War?

It’s likely my life in Germany would have ended within five years of my birth. Murdered in the Holocaust.

The “What ifs?” are endless. Race, gender, condition at birth, historical era, environmental circumstances, cultural beliefs, health, and beyond.

Serendipity. My intelligence is unlike my Down Syndrome granddaughter born with a chromosomal imbalance. My body’s chemical makeup was unlike my alcoholic brother who died at age 31.

My existence has been providential in terms of relational skills and abilities valued by the society in which I was born. Auspicious in that I had skills valued by my culture. Yet lacking many others.

My mental acuity gave me a little advantage in communications. And I could navigate cultural peculiarities with a bit more insight than usual.

My upbringing caused me to face and overcome personal challenges that could have been discouraging. Stuttering morphed into articulateness. Skinny awkwardness transformed into agility. Confusion about life became fascination, especially with how human beings organize themselves.

Clubs, churches, armies, government, schools, and other ways we assemble and work in concert. To fulfill a goal. To oppose an enemy. To build communities and infrastructure. To improve the quality of human life in general.

Maybe that is the reason I first became a public-school social studies teacher. And later a college level teacher educator. And finally, the creator of a nonprofit service (https://cliweb.org/) to improve the quality of American schools. An effort that revealed to me vast differences of opinion about what schools are for and how they should be administered.

Differences of opinion expanded into movements in which like-minded people attempt to sway others toward their ideology through a systematic medium.

A medium for discourse called politics, in which people assume philosophical allegiances out of which they advocate certain kinds of actions. To overturn serendipitous or planned tendencies and beliefs of those who align themselves with viewpoints unlike their own. About money, property, rights, privileges, power, and religious convictions.

The act of people taking sides when disagreements become inflexible positions. Something Forrest Gump never understood, even when thrust into the midst of a 1970s demonstration against a war he survived with honor.

Forrest was simply not capable of political zeal. His world was a source of wonderment, and relationships were straightforward and unprejudiced. Extremes did not exist in his mind. Nor did it occur to him that anyone needed to dominate the beliefs and actions of everyone else.

Or that some people accept that kind of domination. Even seek out and then respect anyone who exercises that kind of so-called leadership. Self-proclaimed leaders who find pleasure in the ability to enflame and envelope other people with the ideas and ambitions emerging from an overinflated sense of importance and entitlement. 

Hubris in the guise of extreme and ethically untethered self-assuredness is a mental aberration proven disastrous to human existence. Many times. It is an evil mission hatched in the same core of exceptionality that produces a need to provide service. But is inflated by a medium that communicates fear and animosity toward others. Promoting an artificial kind of assumed clairvoyance about how human beings should live out their lives.

Forrest’s world of service was to those sitting next to him on bus stop benches, an embittered ex-army officer, people he encountered here and there, and the intelligent son who mysteriously entered his life through a loving relationship he did not fully comprehend. 

A serendipitous feather drifted to his feet. Magically opened a potential he did not realize he possessed. Placed him in contact with an assortment of people he both influenced and was influenced by. And Forrest avoided the hubris that consumes us today.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved