I read an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine recently that related the national fallout from government “dysregulation” to our individual inability to control ourselves. It suggested that a corollary to the lack of government controls on the financial sector, our housing market collapse and, most recently, the BP oil spew, is that we seem to have lost the ability to regulate our own behavior.
This lack of personal self-control encompasses everything from overeating, to a loss of emotional stability, to the inability to concentrate. The results are growing rates of obesity, over-consumption of consumer goods (that hot, new iPhone 4, for example) and an insatiable need for beyond normal, external stimulation. These are not signs of a happy people.
This inability to control our behavior is largely the result of our “orgy of self-indulgence” reinforced by a culture of compulsive “getting and spending.” This “get” and “debt” cycle is one we need to break, because it can provide only temporary happiness.
I think there are some things we can we do to break this cycle and participating in the arts is an important element. Consider the following:
— Set a budget and live by it. Most of us don’t have unlimited resources to support a fantasy life style. Attending theatre is a way to open yourself up to world not centered on material acquisition. Theatre tickets come at all price levels and there is certainly one that will fit your pocketbook.
— Value experiences over things and quality over quantity. Shiny and new is quickly neither. Experiences are mostly the opposite of things; the more you have, the better. Focusing on pursuing experiences also creates a terrific opportunity to participate in and support our rich, local theatre community. And, acquiring a theatre experience can make you a more interesting and engaged person, while simultaneously enriching our community.
— Teach your children to balance their presence in the physical world with the time spent in their app-filled virtual world. Engaging them in the performing arts is a particularly effective way to get their attention, connect them with other like-minded people and improve their critical thinking, self-discipline, self-esteem and poise. When kids are acting, singing or dancing, they’re less likely to hound you for toys in the pursuit of instant gratification. If they participate in arts activities, they create a real world experience, rather than a virtual one outside of reality. These arts activities also create a place for you in their lives.
Participating in live theatre is a great equalizer. Performances are a shared experience — created and not bought; it doesn’t go out of style or season either.
So, the next time you’re tempted to indulge in an unnecessary purchase, consider refocusing on an experience you can share, like exploring the arts and attending the theatre!
While old habits can be hard to change, why not acquire new habits that can lead to a happier, more rewarding and sustainable life?
Tom Hoch is President and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, owner of the historic State, Orpheum and Pantages Theatres, a nonprofit organization devoted to enriching the vibrant cultural atmosphere of the Twin Cities.