I love ceilings – as seen from lying on the floor. Their clean lines and absence of clutter openly invite thinking. When I was teaching, I was the lesson plan queen, staying late on Friday nights into the wee hours, planning every detail for the next week’s lessons. Since I was usually the only one in the building, I had no problem getting out of my desk chair and stretching out on the classroom floor to gaze at the ceiling as I pondered and cogitated the most efficient ways to present the lessons. I really enjoyed those nights; instead of feeling tired, I was energized, happy, and very creative.
Until last Saturday, I didn’t know that there is actually scientific evidence that people will think more creatively and expansively in rooms with high ceilings or in wide open spaces. I happened to catch an interview with Robert Cialdini on a radio broadcast called Tech Nation. Cialdini has written a new book called Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. One of the things he talked about in the interview was how to come up with creative and new approaches to problems you face. He said you should go to a room with a high ceiling, because people are more creative in big, expansive places. The room’s openness and expansiveness help people to think in big, expansive ways. Moira Gunn, the interviewer (who is from San Francisco) said, “Go to the library.” She must have access to an old, high-ceilinged library with lots of space. Cialdini agreed and said, “Or, go outside.” Perhaps this is why so many authors and composers take long walks out of doors; it helps them think more creatively.
This leads me to wonder: So often when we encounter problems with people, we sit down at a table to discuss the issues. Sometimes we pick public places, like a restaurant, so all parties will be less likely to lose control and cause a scene. Or we choose a small intimate space in an effort to stay focused on our mission.
I wonder if perhaps we set ourselves up for failure, or at least less than optimal results in these small spaces. What if we met in a park, or bounced our feelings off each other over a game of tennis? What if we gave ourselves enough room that none of us felt as if the weight of the problems were pressing in on us? Some people, especially those suffering from PTSD, need a solid wall behind them and open space in front of them, with more than one way to escape from their position. I think of the classic school principal or counselor/student conference – a small private room, often filled with the principal or counselor’s memorabilia, and the student sitting across the desk from the adult. How intimidating! (Yes, it used to be the norm to try to intimidate students into submission, but not anymore, thankfully.) What if we gave our students space so they didn’t feel trapped, space where they could run away if they chose, space where they could think their own thoughts without being afraid? And parents – what if we didn’t get in our kids’ faces? What if we got out of the house or car or shopping mall, found a wide open space that had nothing to do with the problem, and dialogued together to create a workable solution?
I wish I’d known this stuff when I got married, when my kids were small, and when I was a teacher. Now that I’m a writer, I think I’m going to work out my writing problems from the perspective of floor to ceiling space.