All genius is obsession, but not all obsession is genius.
It is typical that ordinary people, without any real distinguishing characteristics, like to criticize, even attack, those who seem “obsessed” for their very obsession. There is a perception, amongst ordinary people, that there is something wrong with being obsessed. I think this view comes from a complete failure to understand what obsession is, what it can do and how powerful it can be, for intellectual growth.
There has never been a genius, in history, without an element of obsession, in their character. Indeed, I am quite sure that it is impossible to be a genius, without also being obsessed. How else would a person spend years, sometimes decades, wrestling with a particular problem or set of problems, or writing a particular lengthy work, be it literary, musical, scientific or other academic area? Without the impetus of obsession with the subject matter, it is not possible to consider that the genius would ever do the work at all. Only obsession could propel the genius over every obstacle to overcome all that stood between them and The Answer.
Obsession, far from being something undesirable, or “mad” even, as many an ordinary person seems to consider it, is, in fact, key to all genius. Without obsession, there can be no genius, there would only ever be “talent” – and talent never changes the world, substantially.
Ainan is obsessed with science. It is something to which he returns, daily. This, to me, is a very good sign. It is a hint that he is likely to continue to develop his scientific interests, until he is fully equipped to create interesting scientific works. He has that inner spark of motivation towards his subject, which all geniuses need.
I, too, have a certain obsession towards the matters of my interest. Indeed, I could not, for instance, have maintained this blog for over five years, without a degree of it. So, obsession has proven a blessing for me too. In this case, I am focussed on understanding the childhood of my children, the nature of genius and what it means to be gifted in a world which is not. Without that inner focus, I would not have written so extensively, or at such length, about these interests. I would have been like most others are – I would have touched upon them, then moved on to other things. Yet, then I would have missed the deeper understandings I have come upon. I would have skated superficially over my subject matter and never really come to understand it. Obsession with the subject matter has propelled me to deeper insights and more complete expressions of those understandings.
Many years ago, when I was in my twenties, I spent five and a half years writing a book – in fact, one of the longest books written in any language, at any time. Now, without a degree of obsession with the act of writing, I could not possibly have written that book. Again, we see that to be truly creative, to produce any work that requires years of attention, that a degree of obsession is necessary to that work. Without the obsession, there would be no creative work. So, unlike the chicken and egg problem, it is very clear which comes first, in the genesis of all creative works. First there is the obsession; then there is the creation. Without that first, inner psychological step of taking a profound interest – that is an obsession in – the work to be done, the work would simply never get done.
I hope to see each of my children become obsessed by something, in their lives. I hope to see them take profound interests in their own special worlds, whatever they may be. For in that obsession will they find what no-one else has seen and do what no-one else has done. Obsession will lead them to greatness, if they are so lucky to have that characteristic in them. There is hope for them. It is part of my character to become profoundly interested in that which grabs my attention and intellect. I rather hope that they all have inherited some measure of that character element, for nothing, not even great intellect, is more likely to lead them to greatness, in whatever they choose to do, than that they should hold some degree of obsession for it.
Perhaps, indeed, it is true to say that the world’s greatest geniuses are also the world’s greatest obsessives. Those with the profoundest interests, are also those with the profoundest insights. Those who see deepest, are those most driven to see at all.
So, the next time you note an obsessive interest in someone, do not mark them as “strange” or even “mad”, but see in them the seed of greatness, that is there. Their profound interest, could lead them to see something no-one has seen before and so change the world, in an unexpected way.
In a world without obsession, there would have been no Lord of the Rings and no Mozart’s Requiem, no Guernica, no Hamlet and no Mona Lisa. We would not have a Theory of Relativity, or even a Heliocentric solar system, nor a Theory of Evolution. All these great works, were created by obsessive men, working obsessively, their whole lives long, driven by a demon no-one else could ever understand. Yet, we have all benefitted from their obsessions, even though, in their lifetimes, many of them would have been thought of as “odd” or even been persecuted for their obsessions.
In a very real sense, our world has been built by obsessives – built by people with unremittingly profound interests in their areas of work, people who could not do but what they did. So, be at ease, parents all, if you see hints of obsessiveness in your children – for that tendency to obsession can, if properly harnessed, lead to great things. It only needs a productive focus – some subject area, which if regarded intently, can give up productive fruit. Consider this, also, no child without a degree of obsession, in their hearts, is ever likely to create anything worthy of remembrance, or indeed, to climb to the top of any profession. Only those who are obsessed, are most driven to achieve something of merit in this world, if only to assuage the inner demon, who drives them on. Those who lack obsession are doomed, in a very real way, to be mediocrities, since it is most unlikely that a person can reach the heights of any human endeavour, without being propelled by a generous dose of obsession. So, do not worry if you see this characteristic in your children – be pleased – for it has much promise in it.
It should be noted that the tendency to obsession with interests, that I write of, must be distinguished from “obsessive compulsive disorder”. They are not the same. The latter might force the sufferer to wash their hands a thousand times a day, or check the locks on their house a score of times, before leaving. This is not a productive compulsion. I speak only of those with the profoundest interest in their chosen subject matters. This is a very different phenomenon.
It would be interesting to hear from any parents who have noted obsessive interests in their children. Are your children intently focussed on things that interest them? Do they turn to these subjects again and again? Are they constantly learning in these areas, and building their prowess? Comments below please.
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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