Cultural Malnutrition and Societal Ills

Time to Reinvest in the Arts and Culture

Author: Maestro/Friday, February 13, 2015/Categories: Opinion

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If you are a health-conscious individual, you are probably plugged into any number of services that assist you with diet, exercise and treating common ailments. I exercise and monitor my diet as part of my daily discipline, which includes also mental and spiritual components – in other words, I work my whole being: mind, body and soul. Then it occurred to me that this holistic approach might be the key to overcome the difficult issues of the day. And it all starts with the Arts and Arts education.

Malnutrition is defined generally as “…a lack of proper nutrition, caused by not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things, or being unable to use the food that one does eat.” Lack of nourishment makes the body sick, and over time leads to emotional stress and antisocial behavior. Left unchecked, it eventually leads to death.

Nourishment is a fundamental need. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is clear: If the people’s physiological needs are met, they can begin to rise to their fullest potential. Without these basic needs, however, societal structures required for peace and justice erode, and chaos reigns.

In the United States, we have worked to address the problem of food insecurity. We have organized systems to help provide sustenance to those in need, including food assistance programs and community food banks. But despite these well-meaning programs, more people than ever need help meeting their daily food needs. Hunger is more prevalent than ever. Why? Apparently a deeper study of the root causes of hunger and food insecurity is necessary before a solution can be reached. So why have we propagated a system that doesn’t work? What is keeping us from finding a solution that would end hunger? Why can’t we solve a fundamental problem like this?

I contend that we have lost the ability to solve problems and to empathize and find common ground with our fellow human beings. We argue about how to educate and how much to spend but not about core values of education. We throw money at food banks rather than focus on the root causes of hunger. We are shocked by violence in our communities, but never speak to our neighbors. And on and on.

The truth of the matter is our society suffers from Cultural Malnutrition. Lack of exposure, education and experience in the Arts has eroded our ability to “see,” to understand with depth and clarity the issues we face. Cultivating our artistic selves helps us develop the ability to think creatively, to explore and discover. Investing in artistic endeavor is the springboard to a nourished society, to the culture.

What has gotten us to this point? I think it centers on insufficient funding for the Arts and Cultural programming. As we have attempted to address immediate concerns of society, such as feeding the poor, we have increasingly diverted our resources away from a community investment in the Arts and Culture. This has led to a disconcerting rise in two-dimensional thinking, with everything black and white, this or that, and nothing in between. The result is our inability to think creatively, crippling our capability to cope with basic challenges of life.

We need to reinvest in the Arts and Culture, which has proven to provide lasting benefits, is cost efficient and saves lives. Reinvesting in the Arts and Culture would go a long way toward solving the ills we face today. It would undoubtedly increase the number of creative and empathetic people in our community, which in turn would overwhelm the dis-ease we experience today.

While food is important to survival, it is not enough to meet the complete physiological needs of human beings. Humans are creative, spiritual creatures for whom complete nutrition means food for the whole person: mind, body and soul. We need to nourish and exercise our bodies to stay physically fit and reasonably free from disease. But we also need to nourish and exercise our creativity and our spirit, which is done principally through artistic and cultural experiences.

Long-term solutions to social ills will only begin to reveal themselves when we address our cultural malnutrition. I invite you to consider advocating for full funding and provision for the Arts and Culture. Such an investment in our humanity will eventually lead to a society of creative thinkers and problem solvers, who are spiritually mature and sensitive to the needs of others, who are empathetic and community minded, who are tolerant and appreciate diversity. Such an investment is cost effective because it helps prevent so many societal ills, providing citizens with the ability to solve the problems we face and making them more inclined to be active participants in the solution.

Now that’s food for thought.

~Maestro

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