From the Bookshelf

From the Bookshelf: Rollo May, The Courage to Create

Rollo May - The Courage to Create

A classmate recently expressed to me how rabbinical students read so many interesting books related to their personal areas of interest, in whatever free time they manage to find. Yet we rarely have a chance to learn about each others’ reading.

This category of my blog – From the Bookshelf – is dedicated to my fellow rabbinical students and to anyone interested in exploring what we are reading. I will periodically post short quotes or poems along with my analysis and reflections. I hope to include guest posts from other rabbinical students in the near future. Don your reading glasses (because they’re classy, not just needed) and enjoy!

I was introduced to this book by the incomparable Larry Garf, who teaches human development to students of education at HUC. Although this book is perhaps a bit outdated (it was published in 1975), Larry was so enthusiastic about Rollo May that I couldn’t resist ordering The Courage to Create within hours. His writing is precise yet charming. His love of art and the creative mind seeps through every chapter, while his background in psychology elucidates the process and result of what it means to be creative. I want to share a quote that reveals deep insight into one paradox of creativity.

“The relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt. To believe fully and at the same time to have doubts is not at all a contradiction: it presupposes a greater respect for truth, an awareness that truth always goes beyond anything that can be said or done at any given moment. To every thesis there is an antithesis, and to this there is synthesis. Truth is thus a never-dying process. We then know the meaning of the statement attributed to Leibnitz: ‘I would walk twenty miles to listen to my worst enemy if I could learn something.”

Ostensibly, this book is about creativity, but for Rollo May creativity is a sublime reflection of or grasping for truth. And this paragraph offers such a resonant image of truth for me: commitment and doubt together lead to truth. May’s insight is that truth is more process than product – every conclusion one might reach reveals a counter-conclusion which must then by synthesized into a new conclusion, and so on.

Some of my take-aways from Rollo May:

  • Skepticism is most useful from within a commitment, not from the outside.
  • There is always more truth to be found. Never give in to the status quo.
  • Doubt can be a sign of strength rather than weakness, when it leads to growth and to a fuller picture of the truth.

What do you think? What lesson can you take away from this excerpt? Would you challenge any of my take-aways? Add a comment below!