Did you know that your creativity makes you powerful? It’s hard to believe sometimes, what with ongoing rejection and the seeming unending parade of gatekeepers in our lives. But every once in a while, a story emerges that reminds me of the power inherent in our talents, and why dictators find them so dangerous. A few months ago, I read about Robert Douin in “Madame Fourcade’s Secret War” by Lynne Olson. This book tells the story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, the leader of the Alliance, part of the French Resistance during World War II. Artists and other free-thinkers made up a significant part of the Resistance, using their creativity to invent ways to sneak information from place to place, printing newspapers to share messages and hope, and a myriad of other delightful acts of defiance. (One of my favorites was of ladies forced to knit socks for Nazis making deliberate errors that made the socks uncomfortable.) Douin, a French artist, headed the Caen subsector starting in 1942. This friendly fellow wittily shared his strong opinions. He made a point of looking good, styling his velour suit with a cravat and wide-brimmed hat. Dark-haired and tall, he completed his artistic aesthetic with a mustache and goatee. Before the war, he’d restored several churches along the Normandy coast which gave him access to bell towers for a panoramic view of the area. So, his main spy mission was to create a map of all of the German fortifications along the coast. Along with sketching from sight, his son Remy would inform him of antitank trenches and access paths from the beaches. Fishermen shared warning flyers from the Germans for bombardment practice which also included the locations of the artillery. This effort resulted in a detailed, fifty-five-foot-long map of the beaches and roads where the Allies would land on June 6, 1944, D-Day. “As one military
historian wrote, Douin’s masterpiece was ‘the most complete, detailed military picture of the landing sites that the Allied command would be given in the course of the war,’” wrote Olson. Just after Douin handed off the map in early March of 1944, he and fifteen members of his Caen subsector were captured by the Gestapo. As the Allied troops came ashore on June 6, the Germans executed Douin and these other brave souls for their work against the Nazis. The fact that Douin never saw the Allied victory breaks my heart. Creatives are powerful and, when they challenge the existing power structure, dangerous. We introduce new concepts, we broaden empathy for the unfamiliar, we enchant and challenge and educate with our words, art, and crafts. In the hands of a creative, a simple object can become a political statement, an aesthetic movement, a ground-breaking piece that transcends use, a piece that incorporates its use so fully that its meaning can only be translated one way. Take a moment, close your eyes, and imagine what it might feel like to embrace the power of your creativity. Could you feel maybe 5% of that power? What would it feel like to believe that 100% of that power is yours for fifteen seconds? If you acted as if you had that power, what would you do? Maybe it’s time to go do that. If this feels too scary to do on your own, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.