Imagination is great. It’s my best friend, my escape route. It’s saved me on more than one occasion; from boring car journeys and endless lectures, to school plays and insomnia. The list can go on and on. Every song on my mp3 player is a mini film, starring me; which is good when you’re sat on a plane; not so good when you arrive at work and can’t remember how you got there or where you parked the car.
Imagination gets a bad press, it is dismissed as ‘daydreaming’ and ‘not concentrating’. At school a teacher once told me that I had too much imagination, it was said in a way that made it clear that this is not a good thing. I’m not sure how you measure imagination though. Is it done with little probes in your ears that make a sound like a Geiger counter?
Imagination is important, it helps us to develop empathy and theory of mind. If we can’t imagine how we might feel in someone else’s position, how are we to help and understand them? We should be encouraging it, in whatever form it takes. As someone who’s worked with children a lot I’ve often been surprised at how much they’ve struggled with the idea of just writing a story, but then if I compare my childhood with that of a child today, there’s a huge difference. I had to make games up, there was no alternative, but children today have more television programmes and computer games to do the imagining for them.
They don’t have to imagine a certain scenario, it’s all there, they just have to point a controller and click. They also don’t get as much freedom to play outside as people my age used to. As children we used to go off for the day, just playing in a field near my house, we’d make up games between us. There was an old, empty house that we used to walk past on the way home from school, we’d climb through the bushes surrounding it and dare each other to go inside. We made up stories about who had lived there and each and every one of us swore that we saw the ghost of an old man in there, who was probably just a tramp sleeping rough. Or a shadow. It didn’t really matter. Imagination is contagious and once it’s got you there’s no escape.
So I’ve ended up perfectly happy with my diagnosis of too much imagination. It might mean that I often scare myself just walking down the corridor to the bathroom in the middle of the night (which is a minefield. If the ‘thing’ under the bed hasn’t got you then the burglar hiding on the stairs will). But it also helps me to work out how other people tick. I might even mention that in my next imaginary Oscar acceptance speech.