Everything is Awesome: Creativity and Self-Esteem

If you haven’t seen The Lego Movie and thus don’t get the reference in the title of this blog post, here’s a trailer to give you an idea of the movie’s plot (and get a catchy song stuck in your head…sorry):

In an early scene, poor Emmet finds out that hardly any of his neighbors and coworkers even remember him. One guy shrugs him off as a nobody…and then describes, in contrast, what is remarkable about his buddies, what sets them apart.

One of them likes sausages. Another is “perky.” And another is proud of his facial hair.

Awesome.

Lego MovieThe obvious conclusion is that if that’s what it means to be special…who really cares about being special? This fits well with the growing backlash against the self-esteem movement. Critics will point out that the “specialness” we reward kids for displaying is often as shallow as that of Emmet’s blocky Lego pals.

It’s dangerous, some people say, to tell kids to believe in themselves, one of the messages of the movie. Like President Business said, “I never got a trophy just for showing up,” a habit of modern society that has gotten a lot of mockery (for good reasons).

Save it for the inspirational cat poster.

And I say…

No.

You’re not entirely wrong, cynical people. We’ve been sending kids damaging messages about what it means to be special.

Self esteem

In a modern recognition-based system, we teach kids that they do things to get awards. They are worthy because they are good at stuff, and look, we’ll give you a certificate to prove it! And we don’t want to admit that some kids are better at measurable academic or extracurricular activities than others. So ribbons for everyone!

There are at least three things are wrong with this.

First, kids shouldn’t need an award to bribe them into doing something they enjoy.

Second, kids shouldn’t believe they are worthy because of what they do—because what if they’re pretty average, or even bad at most things schools measure?

And third, ribbons and trophies are kinda worthless clutter, knickknacks gathering dust. If you’re gonna reward them, give them an ice cream sandwich, or, better, a genuine, Mr.-Roger’s-like affirmation.

Everything Mr. Rogers said would have failed miserably if he did mean it so genuinely.

Everything Mr. Rogers said would have failed miserably if he did mean it so genuinely.

But Lego guy Emmet doesn’t tell us to give all the kids trophies. He tells us to give all the kids a chance to create something. And that, I think, is worthwhile.

(Sidenote: We’ve limited the use of the word “creative.” Example: my twin sister is a structured person, a memorizer, a rule-follower, the type who always colored within the lines. She’s also very creative. Watch the way she tells hilarious stories, comes up with games to play with her fifth grade math class, and crushes the competition, often me, in strategy games, and you’ll never doubt this. Yes, The Lego Movie is talking about the imaginative play that most of us remember from childhood. But I think it also involves all kind of creativity. *)

Unlike both Dash and Syndrome of The Incredibles who said, “If everyone is special, then no one is,” Emmet and his pals insist that “If everyone is special, then…everyone is special.” It’s a paradox. And that’s not the only one found in the movie. There’s also…

Work as a team and be an individual.

Be positive…but it’s okay to be sad when bad things happen.

Follow instructions and come up with original ideas.

Don’t be satisfied with a plastic town of generic sitcoms, ubiquitous advertisements, Big-Brother-like security, and overpriced coffee…but be satisfied with having an ordinary name instead of something cool and edgy, with being a normal guy instead of the traditional hero.

Kids’ movies typically aren’t great at balancing out the nuances, but, surprisingly, this one did. To which I say…

Awesome.

Also, don't buy overpriced coffee.

Also, don’t buy overpriced coffee.

*Stuffy Theological Footnote For the Dedicated Reader: I believe that part of being made in the image of God is shown because he is a Creator and we are creators. But God is not just Creator—he’s also the Sustainer. And if you lean more towards Order than Creativity, you’re also displaying the image of God, just in a different way. Just to clear that up so no one feels left out.

19 comments

  1. That song makes me think of the oral surgery I had last week. The nurse started singing that during the surgery, and the surgeon was asking me if I’d seen the movie. While I had stuff in my mouth…

      1. I know! I’m painfully honest sometimes and people hear more than they’re really asking, so I just try to dumb it down, but it doesn’t always work. After all, they don’t really care that I broke a fingernail last night (especially since I don’t go to salons of any kind). They’re just asking to be polite.

  2. I love this article! Thank you for your great insights. While I read this, a couple questions popped into my mind.
    What are some practical ways to evoke creativity? You say that giving someone a chance to create something is worthwhile. But how do we help a person find that niche?
    Also, how can Christians promote an idea that a person is valuable as a child of God and not based on works, while maintaining the view that it is what we create that is worthwhile?
    I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for your follow up on this movie.

    1. Ronni these questions are…wait for it…awesome! So awesome, in fact, that they’re going to get their own blog post. Stay tuned sometime in the next month or so.

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