The Creative Spark! – Swing Your Partner

Do you cringe at the idea of group work? Do you twitch and tingle to Cotton Eyed Joe busting your woofers?

Professors dole out budgie-sized bits on how to work in groups. And howl when you flail. A feminist professor called students who declined group work “Princesses.” She despised princesses—and hammered their grades.

But groups can succeed, especially when made of many cultures. Helen Sword shows one reason why multicultural groups thrive in her book Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write. She says some foreign students slip in proverbs from their place of origin. Proverbs, like metaphors, shake up new knowledge.

Multi-cultural groups do wonders. But what happens when the world morphs into one glum face? Sadly, Yahoo! news homogenized the globe. When I taught Japanese speakers English, I learned that Yahoo! force-feeds the Japanese its global view. Fake news makes the globe a melting pot steeping with revolts.

Is there an advantage to homogeneity? In one group, a foreign exchange student wrote perfect English, but no-one knew. We discovered her gift for English too late—after our report suffered a B.

So, how might groups flourish? Through sports team psychology. Not the K-12 psychology ruled by bullies and Queen Bees. No. Real sports psychology. The psychology where all team members matter.

Yet, teams can consist of more than equals; opposites make teams, too. What are opposites? For one, the reader and the writer; for another, the writer and the editor. So, write for your reader, says Sword. And sit up straight when the editor growls. When I write, I focus on an ideal reader: a friendly female I once interviewed. Likewise, imagine audiences who support us and who favor fun, suggests Sword. Visualize their smiles and winks—square dance together to Cotton Eyed Joe.

When I write, I listen to the editor. When he says add humor, I study comedy. When he says people like a glimpse into your life, I share my soul. When he says big words sound stuffy, I opt for the little ’uns.

Helen Sword shares her research on multiculturalism and collaboration in her book Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write:

• Learning a new language takes thousands of hours of labor. No easy way out. Sorry, friends.
• English-as-a-second-language-students can master English wisely. How? By watching English subtitled TV and films, reading English books, finding English-speaking friends, and hiring English editors.
• English-as-a-first-language students could teach English voluntarily, monetarily, or barter-based.
• Many multilingual writers outperform native English writers.
• Metaphors from other countries add flavor to English. Same with parables and spiritual wisdoms.
• Our readers shape “not only how and what we write but also how we feel about our writing” (p. 110).
• Discard the critic. Don’t give that whiner a whit. Focus on the fun readers.
• Seek out “charismatic leaders” in audiences—the ones who smile, laugh, and nod—says Lee Shulman (as cited in Sword). They’ll inspire you, not depress you.
• Editors can benefit by pointing out points-of-confusion, boredom, or bafflement. Heed an editor’s wisdom. Hire editors to critique your work.

When I lacked spiritual wisdom, I sat on a hillside. I pondered, “What is the most intelligent act a person can do?” The answer? Benefit another’s life. Or square dance to Cotton Eyed Joe. A paradox? I call it a creative spark.

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