Many cultural experiences are given credit for changing lives. For example, many people claim to have read a book that changed their life. I’ve always been very cynical about this. Nobody ever explains how a book changed their life. This makes reading a book seem far more consequential than it really is.
The question we must ask is, do you really want your life to change? If you are financially comfortable enough to afford to buy a book and have the spare time to read it, then maybe you would not want that to change. Maybe your life is pretty good and cannot be improved.
Improve may be the key word here. People read books to improve themselves and if you improve yourself, then you have improved your life.
Sometimes I do want my life to change as the result of what seemed like a powerful cultural experience. For example, my recent trip to the Dublin Theatre Festival struck me as a life changing experience. But I have been home now for several weeks and resumed my routine. Nothing seems to have changed for me. I think the yearning for a change may be due to the fact that I did not make this trip alone as usual. Instead I was in the company of some people from the Irish Repertory Theater of New York City and a group of Irish theater enthusiasts. I cannot say that I have ever been in the company of “cultured people” so this was a very new experience. There were many interesting occurrences that told me I was in the company of people who shared my interests.
Now that I am home in my dull town this all seems quite inconsequential. It was a vacation. Don’t make too much of it. But does it have to be? In a certain sense, everything is consequential. It does not have to have an enormous direct consequence. For example, if I returned to the office and the president of the company called me into his office to tell me, “Bob, I understand you recently went to Dublin for a theater festival. I never realized you were such a cultured individual. I am making you our new vice president. Congratulations!” Now that would be a life changing consequence of a night at the theater. I might even be able to pay all my bills! But it is also a ridiculous scenario. Life does not work like that.
Everything has indirect consequences. One step leads to another. In fact, I only attended the Dublin Theatre Festival as a consequence of following the doings of the Irish Repertory Theater. Although I am not particularly partial to Irish theater, I do find the Irish Repertory Theater to be more dedicated to European theater. It is their mission to promote Irish culture. They can’t very well turn against Western culture as every other theater company seems intent on doing. That I am interested at all in theater is a consequence of my genuine appreciation for serious drama. I won’t get into that because it requires a long explanation.
But getting back to the real subject I wish to ponder. Does my wonderful experience have to be so inconsequential? Might there not be ways to make it more consequential? The trick would be to find some small step I could take that could lead to something much bigger. So far I have only written a review on Amazon of the book Sacred Play: Soul-Journeys in Contemporary Irish Theatre. This is a direct consequence of attending the Dublin Theatre Festival because I finally finished reading the book to prepare for my trip. If I had not decided to go on this trip the book will still be unread. Even what I wrote in my review was designed to demonstrate my understanding of the spiritual significance of the plays. Nobody else has ever bothered to write a review of that book. Maybe nothing of great consequence will ever come of that, but it is now done.
Perhaps the key to responding to a work of art in such a way as to have great consequence is to respond on the deepest level. If you see a great painting and your only response is to say “that’s great” then it cannot change your life. If you see a great painting and write a deeply appreciative essay on the painting then that is potentially more consequential. Providing insight can take you places.