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\”Spontaneity\” – Word of the Week

Definition of the word of the week (SPONTANEITY): The quality or condition that arises from a natural inclination or impulse and not from external incitement or constraint.

Judith Martin, the famous columnist known as Miss Manners once said, “We are all born charming, fresh and spontaneous and must be civilized before we are fit to participate in society.” This observation indicates that spontaneous outbursts are not always appropriate but must be tempered by some social norms.

Spontaneity is a powerful component of brainstorming sessions. I recall one supervisor made an insightful observation that, “all of us are smarter than any one of us.” By taking off resource constraints and letting creativity flow, a group of people with average intelligence will almost always find a solution that is better than the solution from the smartest person in the group.

Although my French is rusty, and will stay that way, I recall a phrase called “coup d’oeil” which (I hope) translates into “in the blink of an eye.” This term was used by military theorists to explain how a seasoned warrior-leader could almost immediately know the best solution to a problem without going through an extensive staff exercise to compare advantages and disadvantages. Napoleon Bonaparte is probably the best example of this ability. Although a leader’s insight may appear to be spontaneous, it is actually the result of years of experience. Consequently, the experienced brain can cut through the fog of indecision to find a workable solution.

Experience is built over time. I remember singing songs and telling stories with my boys in the car during long road trips. We also did mental math problems. When the boys were in 1st grade, we would do multiplication, division and even factorials in our head. Years later, when one of the boys studied factorials in school, he instantly knew the answer. Although he did not remember our practice sessions, when he needed the information, it was there. Similarly, in school I have advised students to carefully read the test question and then go with their first instinct. Second-guessing oneself often results in a lower score.

So, we should study hard and build up a “bank” of experience. Then, when confronted with a problem, we should let our creativity flow and the answer will come. As the noted poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, observed, “Our spontaneous action is always best. You cannot, with your best deliberation and heed, come so close to any question as your spontaneous glance shall bring you.”

The following quotations are intended to assist in explaining and exemplifying the word of the week:

Analysis kills spontaneity. The grain once ground into flour springs and germinates no more. Henri Amiel, Philosopher

We need more spontaneous compassion and charity. Glenn Pace, Religious leader

The Tao’s principle is spontaneity. Lao Tzu, Philosopher

All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous, unpremeditated act without benefit of experience. Henry Miller, Author

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. William Woodsworth, Poet

All self-revelation and intimacy in friendship must be spontaneous and natural. It must come like the opening of a flower in the sunshine and cannot be forced. Bertha Conde

LTC Patrick Beer, the Dean of Students and Commandant of Cadets at Georgia Military College, prepares this study guide each week as part of the institution’s character education program. He welcomes comments and suggestions from readers. He can be contacted by phone, 478-445-2710 or by email, pbeer@gmc.cc.ga.us