During university, I briefly participated in a community outreach program that went into the downtown of Hamilton and handed out hot chocolate to pedestrians near the mall, bus terminals, or soup trucks. The goal of the exercise was first and foremost to be nice but we also hoped to have conversations with the passers-by about faith and God. Or anything else really. I only participated a few times but a few of the experiences really stuck with me.
One time, the group I was with had struck up a conversation with some art students from another nearby university and the conversation turned towards faith. We asked them a few questions and I clearly remember one of the girls dismissively saying “Oh, I don’t know about that. We’re creatives, not intellectuals.” They then began to break off from the conversation.
I had no response at the time but even years later I am still unpacking that answer. It speaks to a profound difference between how we and they interpreted the importance of a topic and the responsibility of awareness. To them, religion belonged to the domain of the intellectual which was unimportant to artists. It did not have universal significance; I strongly believe it does.
Now I play the conversation over and over and try to puzzle through what I might have said instead of standing there silently while they slowly peeled away. How do I defend to a person that this subject is important? Or any subject, actually. How do I defend that my favourite books or poems are important? How do I defend that theatre or the evolving art of video games are important? How can I convince a person to rethink their priorities and responsibilities so as to take what I’m saying seriously?
I’m not sure it’s a battle one can always win. If someone is determined to only think about some things and never others then there is little you can do. I believe this may be, in part, a side effect of our information saturated culture. Every day we are presented with more information than we can possibly process so we learn to block out some competitors in the fight for our attention. At least, that’s what I do. I imagine others do. Perhaps we can encourage people to occasionally check their filter and make sure they haven’t ignored something crucial.
Ultimately, I don’t have a solution to offer. Not an assured one. But I have gained something valuable. In learning how to defend the importance of my interests to others, I have learned their importance myself. I don’t know how to make the dismissive art girls like my favourite books but I now know precisely why they are important and how they make me a better person. I better understand their worth myself and I can better apply that in my life.
Other things I have realized are, contrary to prior opinion, not important! I’ve been able to let go of things that really don’t matter or at least hold onto them more loosely. I’ve learned the limitations of some of the things I enjoy. Overall, in trying to learn how to make others review their priorities and responsibilities, I had do to the same myself.
I didn’t ever think to ask myself why I thought things were important. When I started asking, I found a new deeper understanding. I encourage you to try the same. Especially if you’re an art student in Hamilton because I need closure.