Years ago David Dower taught me to look at the abundance in a situation. I had trained myself to rattle off the sheaf of reasons that I couldn’t be a great theatremaker and never to highlight the unimaginably large foundation that allowed me to be the good theatremaker I already was. It was a lovely gift.
It prepared me to be less defensive in a cultural moment where my demographic hegemony might just have a few holes poked in it. Greater awareness of my abundance gave me a foundation to be able to bear witness rather than to feel the need to shout. It also sharpened my awareness of actual scarcity and need.
There is real hurt in human society, almost all of it self-inflicted. We hurt each other and ourselves, feel trapped in that pain, lash out and spur the cycle on. We react to hurt out of our brokenness until we feel powerful again. I believe that art in all its permutations is a bridge to connect people and communities and to also serve as paths out of those cycles of pain and hurt. Secular or spiritual, art, storytelling in particular, has always been a tool of humanity to give purpose beyond the existential spark.
Through the mill of our cultural biases the best art. the art regarded as the “highest”, has come to be reserved for those with the most resources, in general those who have been the least broken by our systems. Meanwhile, those who have the fewest resources and accumulate the most hurt get scraps. We pile indignity on injustice, inflict true scarcity on folks, and then when they flail in their anger, hurt, and brokenness and hurt others we punish them as harshly as we can.
“They’ve caused harm, they deserve it.”
There is no greater scarcity that I’ve ever encountered than a man who’s been thrown away by a system that was already barely letting him participate. There’s no hope.
So what happens if we bring him some? What if we bring water to the desert?
What if we treat a person with dignity?
What if we don’t ignore the hurt they’ve caused, but don’t treat them as only that hurt?
What if create opportunities to see the people around them as more than existential threats?
What if we give them tools to participate in humanity’s sacred rite of telling stories?
What if we made them feel as though they could be central to their own stories?
It’s worth trying.
What if we didn’t just bring them tools,but the art regarded as elite?
What if gave them the keys to feel that it was theirs too?
What if we give them Shakespeare and let them play?
It’s worth trying.
I’m no Prometheus, but I know where the fire is.
“Use every man after his desert, and who should ’scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity. The less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty. Take them in.”