In a culture of mass unemployment, benefit hand-outs and declining educational standards, are we facing an apathy epidemic? Not in principle perhaps – people are very enthusiastic about verbalising their concerns and speaking out against this that and the other, which of course is a good thing because otherwise we would be living under a dictatorship. However, people seem to be less and less proactive about change and more dubious of straying from the beaten path than in past decades. In such uncertain times we seem to be collectively less willing to take risks, which is understandable, but does mean that new opportunities are more and more frequently put to bed before being given any air.
I’ve recently been party to discussions about a few local arts initiatives which have had various amounts of interest but just haven’t gotten off the ground due to an apparent lack of support or poor participation. It’s very easy to generalise and say that it’s because certain people don’t want to make an effort or that our generation has been allowed, nay encouraged, to sit back with palms outstretched. In part I agree, but only so far as to ask: in a society driven by quick fixes and ‘instant’ products is this fast becoming our expectation of all areas of life? Do we want and expect whole careers to bloom over night with minimal exertion on our part? Perhaps on some level, and certainly for a vast number of people, this may be true.
But I don’t think that apathy is the root of the problem. In a time when we’re having to squeeze every penny and be at the top of our game at any given moment, it’s more a question of fear. Fear that we’re not getting there fast enough. A crippling fear which is stopping people from taking new and unknown opportunities which could potentially be a ‘waste of time’ – time being one of our most valuable commodities these days. It’s the fear that things might not pay off which stop us from investing our time, efforts and, in some cases, money in the first place. We want minimum input and maximum outcome, so starting a new creative platform or training group or whatever will struggle to grab our attention from the start unless it has a guaranteed career delivery at the end. Fairly unrealistic and counter-productive one would think.
Now I realise it’s not quite as black and white as that – people are incredibly driven and active in anything that might push their careers forwards and do actually try things. Groups are being set up all the time, some successfully so. However, I’m finding more and more that people are less and less willing to commit, especially if there aren’t immediate payoffs. Everyone in this industry will know that careers very rarely fall out of the sky after first entering the profession. Careers take time and an awful lot of hard work. But they also require a certain amount of chance. So why are we seeing so many opportunities floundering when they have the potential to offer those rare chance meetings, etc.? Are we simply too scared to commit to something which may require a leap of faith and hard work, but which delivers non-financial benefits?
I’m not convinced we’re all as mercenary as that, but we are facing difficult financial times and anything that will cost us money rather than directly making some is going to be at least a little off-putting. But it should be about seeing past the here and now and building our futures. So how do we change this? There are plenty of enthusiastic people out there with some fantastic ideas, so what can we do to support them and help them move on from being ideas to actual things? Perhaps it’s not about totally new ideas, rather pruning and updating existing ones. Or perhaps we need to change opinions to garner support for activity over talk. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that we cannot allow apathy to be the blame for a slump in activity or fear become the excuse to stop taking those little risks that shape our careers and lives. I know I’m just talking at the moment, but I do it in the hope that these words become actions.