Tag Archives: Pearl S. Buck

Confusing Creativity and Empathy

colorful palette and paint brushes

In Jonathan Fields recent brief post he asked if creativity is an addiction. He had a couple of other questions as well, but the bulk of his post was a quote by Pearl S. Buck who said:

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.

Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off…

They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating.

Pearl S. Buck plainly did not distinguish between empathy and creativity, which are two entirely different processes. She simply described unbalanced empathy with a dose of creativity added. This was not much of an exploration or definition of creativity, so using her words to leap into a discussion of creativity as addiction was a leap into greater error yet.

The fact of the matter is that human beings are inherently creative, so it is not an abnormality at all. School often enough stamps most of those creative impulses into dormancy so many adults do not even realize they are creative beings. If you are one of these adults, just try going through an entire day glaring angrily and snapping at everyone around you and see what you have created by the end of the day. That should leave no doubt that in myriad unnoticed ways we are endlessly creative in our lives.

It is entirely possible to be creative without being particularly empathetic. Creativity is a way of combining elements or concepts to come up with something new, probably something a bit unexpected. To use art as an example, most people respond to art that tickles at the edge of their normal way of perceiving, because that is what they experience as innovative and exciting. If it goes too far past what they perceive as normal, they do not connect to it all, and if it falls short of their boundaries it bores them. This spectrum of innovation and excitement is characteristic of creativity and does not have anything directly to do with empathy unless empathy itself is being explored in the process.

Empathy is a warmly human quality which can be experienced in a variety of ways, just as creativity can be. Overly sensitive people are often overwhelmed by their unbalanced empathy, but this is a distortion of what should be a normal process. Empathy can accompany a drive to creative expression, but should not be mistaken for creativity itself, as Pearl S. Buck did.

Her description speaks more clearly about distorted empathy than healthy creative expression. When one opens the gates within oneself to that divine source of inspiration, it does lead to great outpourings of creation. Since I believe that our human purpose is to clearly express that amazing divine essence that lies in each of us, I do agree it can be fairly said that none of us are really alive unless we are creating, each of us in our own unique ways.