I stood there, pint in hand just people watching. My mind was as full as my back pack with 18th century philosophy. It was 1 am and I had just finished up at the library for the night and fancied a pint on the way home. It was Friday night after all. Just as I was about to leave two gents struck up a conversation with me. As I’m sure you’ve all experienced introductions naturally lead to the dreaded question: “so what’s your thesis about?” My answer garnished the sadly not unusual response of something along the lines of: “that’s interesting and all, but what’s the point and what can you even do with that?” Essentially an expression of the growing public trend of devaluing the arts and humanities. One of my new companions even went so far to say that he believed the state shouldn’t fund the arts and humanities since they didn’t produce anything of value.
Maybe it has to do with culture I grew up in, but I spent much of my life apologizing for my passion for the humanities, treating it like a bad habit or a guilty pleasure. I was often too scared or insecure to express and confidently make the case for it. I would make some self-deprecating joke or down play its importance. That was until a friend brought me up short for it. So that night I presented my defense of the humanities. I laid out their importance in teasing out what it means to be human and the transcendental truths that define and express the human condition. Subjects that lead to discussing the why and should, not just the how and what. I pointed out how many of the issues in society today stemmed from the devaluing of the arts and humanities. And to my great surprise at the end of my diatribe he changed his mind.
I felt more confident in my defense after listening to a seminar the other evening. The title was intriguing, and it seemed like an easily justifiable form of productive procrastination. Between every line seemed to be the proposition that political science didn’t really possess the methodology and language to effectively discuss what he saw occurring in politics around the world. As the talk continued, the answer became more evident or maybe unavoidable to me, a lot of what he was seeing in UK and US politics had to do with a loss or denigration of the arts and humanities. That they held the necessary knowledge and methodologies to explain and respond to what is going on in politics and society. And again, to my surprise my theory was met with nods of approval and interest as I chatted with the lecturer afterwards.
So why relate these stories? I do realize in many ways I’m preaching to the choir here and this isn’t meant to toot my horn. It’s meant to be an encouragement to see the value and purpose in the work that you do, and to own that with some confidence. It will not only help keep you motivated, but the arts and humanities need advocates in a culture that at once needs them and seems to be bent on flattening and devaluing them. So, I hope this encourages you to be bold and confident, recognizing the purpose and value of what you do. You might just be surprised by the response you get!
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