I was watching a documentary the other day and an inspired thought was brought forth by a person being interviewed.  He claimed the leading cause of suicide in small towns is due to a lack of imagination.

He went on to explain that, in a small town, you can feel trapped and stifled and the only way out of that living death is moving out of that town — through education or a job opportunity — but few young people today have the earned guts or the sustained imagination to make such a bold move away from the context of community, family and friends they were born into, and so the only way they can see out of their miserable, dead, life is to actively find an end in suicide.

As a child of the Midwestern mentality, I completely understand the argument. 

There was an old, but wholly unspoken, chestnut growing up that if someone was killed in a one car collision with an interstate overpass support, or if they “ran off” a bridge and died in the crash — those deaths were suicide and not by accident. 

In the barren flatlands, where traffic is always light and manageable, the only way to die in that sort of one car accident is by your own, intentional, hand.  The community would accept your suicide as “an accident” with the repressed understanding of the unspeakable inner intention. 

We’re familiar with “suicide by cop” — well, now you know about “suicide by cloverleaf bridge support at 100mph.”

If you have imagination, you can deal with a barren, dead, life in the Midwest — because your mind knows no bounds. 

With an active imagination, you could happily spend 100 years in solitary confinement without any other human interaction because you have the power of your mind that always offers you real freedom. 

We are not our bodies; we are only our minds.

Imagination is dangerous to the power majority because imaginative people have a knack for bending rules and twisting social norms without breaking them and that very act of bending — instead of bending over — is interpreted as a cudgel against the unbendable middling mindset.

Can we teach imagination

Or are we only born with imagination? 

Can a literal person be taught to think in melody and color instead of soundless and colorless plain text?

If imagination can help cure the impulse of suicide as the final end to a meme — do we owe it to each other to force forward the idea that permission to think freely is the most cherished and perishable freedom we tend to always want but never own?


  1. I don’t think that imagination can be learned — it can be unblocked, however, and that is really more of the issue. People have the wild imagination as children but they get repressed by people telling them not to say things because they will sound silly and then they internalize that as imagination portal guardians who block true spontaneous expression.
    When I was in high school I took two semesters of improvisation and we did many exercises like the following: the professor would ask us each a question that could not be easily thought of but an immediate response was needed or he would say that you were blocking. “You have a squirrel sitting on your shoulder and he whispers something in your ear – what does he say?” “What is the opposite of brick?” “You find a scroll rolled up on the ground and unroll it. What is written on it?”
    I think it is within people to get unblocked. How creative they can be is really dependent on that.
    That being said, a very creative person could conceivably end up suicidal if they over think the profound injustices in the universe. I’m only a little creative and I have gotten to that point sometimes.

  2. Gordon —
    Are creativity and imagination the same thing?
    I think literal people are pretty good at improvising — lying, fibbing and pretending — and the real skill in imagination is in the ability to create something out of nothing with no external help.
    I’m also sensing the most imaginative among us are born that way and not trained.
    A creative person could certainly be drawn to suicide while a truly imaginative person would never understand the notion.

  3. I always thought of the two as linked. I suppose that’s why the class was really Creative Improvisation and not just straight improvisation.
    Do you ever go to improv shows at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater?
    I think I see what you mean about imaginative people and suicide now. 🙂

  4. I have yet to see the Upright Citizens Brigade, Gordon. I’m sort of against improvisation and I’ll explain why in an article tomorrow. I value imagination much more than improvisation and creativity.

  5. I think imagination can take our mind away from the “now” to wherever it wishes, but one has to have the capability to comprehend and unleash it.
    If I take the example of being caught in the “Midwest”, there would be people who wouldn’t just understand the emptiness of it – there would also be people who would merrily spend their life there – there would also be others who would silently suffer…finally, there will be very few who would actually enjoy being there with the help of their powerful mind, but that’s rare.
    Ignoring and overcoming the desire to end the “now” is not easy and can only be done when someone has the power to think beyond it.
    I am neither imaginative nor creative, but I think everyone has moments when the going gets really tough…I escape through books. This was mostly relevant when I was in the residential school, stuck in the regimented routine for almost 10-12 years.

  6. If one is able to exercise their imagination, the physical location of the person is unimportant. The trick is to help the less imaginable become more so — then they can escape the dead end dull life.

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