Cultivation of Imagination

Human imagination needs to be exercised or it atrophies



Before color movies, TVs, and then iPhones came into widespread use, radio mystery stories like The Shadow Knows had the power to fascinate. The Orson Welles radio broadcast War of the Worlds was so vivid that it caused panic in the streets of major cities. I suspect that same broadcast would not cause panic among today’s savvy but jaded audience. Why not? Because back then our faculty for vivid imagination was more robust. Videos and movies of today leave nothing to the imagination, and so our imaginations are unengaged.

Human imagination needs to be exercised beyond the surface facts of life, or else it atrophies. Researchers say they are finding evidence of exactly that. In a 2010 study of about 300,000 creativity tests going back to the 1970s, Kyung Hee Kim, a creativity researcher at the College of William and Mary, found that creativity has decreased among American children. Since 1990, children have become less able to produce unique, imaginative ideas.

Advances in mind-numbing technology have glued kids to YouTube and social media for hours every day. Healthful nutrition and exercise for body, mind, and spirit are neglected. The cold facts of surface reality without flights of imagination starve and depress their souls.

Each family’s challenge is to find ways to stir the imagination, with unstructured excursions such as beach walks to study tiny crabs, trips to the zoo, or backyard stargazing. Loving parents might consider electronics-free Sundays. The kids’ moaning and groaning would cease with encouragement in games, art projects, home puppet shows, diary keeping, and the like.

World-famous novelist Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra often read aloud to one another in their early teens. This evolved into short theatrical performances that were attended by family members and neighbors. Jane’s novels, including the esteemed Pride and Prejudice, reveal her cultivated imagination, humor, and keen intelligence.

In his Letter to Artists, Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery.”


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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