I’ve been living through sort of a ‘contemplation phase’ in the last few weeks, and was trying to evaluate some seemingly basic notions about life in general. The idea of understanding a person / thing, valuing its existence and appreciating it in an honest fashion was one of them. Incidentally, I was also reading Ayn Rand‘s epic novel ‘Atlas Shrugged‘ in that period and came across the following passage, and it seemed to throw the answer at me.
For the uninitiated, here some background behind the scene in question and the characters involved in it. This conversation takes place between Richard Halley, a renowned music composer, and Dagny Taggart, a railroad industry heiress and the main protagonist who listens only to Halley’s creations and loves them because she can connect with them instantly.
“Miss Taggart, how many people are there to whom my work means as much as it does to you?”
“Not many,” she answered simply, neither as boast nor flattery, but as an impersonal tribute to the exacting values involved.
“That is the payment I demand. Not many can afford it. I don’t mean your enjoyment, I don’t mean your emotion. Emotions be damned! I mean your understanding and the fact that your enjoyment was of the same nature as mine, that it came from the same source: from your intelligence, from the conscious judgment of a mind able to judge my work by the standard of the same values that went to write it. I mean, not the fact that you felt, but that you felt what I wished you to feel, not the fact that you admire my work, but that you admire it for the things I wished to be admired.” He chuckled.
“There’s only one passion in most artists more violent than their desire for admiration: their fear of identifying the nature of such admiration as they do receive. But it’s a fear I’ve never shared. I do not fool myself about my work or the response I seek—I value both too highly.
I do not care to be admired causelessly, emotionally, intuitively, instinctively, or blindly. I do not care for blindness in any form, I have too much to show, or for deafness, I have too much to say. I do not care to be admired by anyone’s heart, only by someone’s head. And when I find a customer with that invaluable capacity, then my performance is a mutual trade to mutual profit. An artist is a trader, Miss Taggart, the hardest and most exacting of all traders. Now do you understand me?”
The author couldn’t have put it more emphatically. Its the sort of understanding and acceptance of one’s values in the way they are intended to be accepted that’s so rare in this world. We jump on to the ‘judgment bandwagon’ at the drop of a hat without fully understanding the true feelings behind someone’s actions, or knowing the real effort that went into creating something. At times, we do not even attempt to find out the right parameters or rise to the required level before voicing our opinions on someone or something. We then say that we ‘value’ that person or thing. Do we really mean it?
Its a notion which can be observed in almost every ‘mutual’ relationship – between two good friends, between a husband and his wife, between parents and their children, between a hardworking professional and the seniors at his workplace, between a sports player and his coach, between the students and their teacher – and yet it is one of the most underrated and misunderstood of all human values. We tend to take things for granted when it comes to valuing someone, and succeed in nothing but harming the relationship. We surrender our ‘thinking-cap’ too soon, give in to prejudices and blind faiths, and fail to understand the importance of people, events and special creations. We let our heart rule our brain in what we say or do or like, but miss the truly important things which are hidden in plain view!
You can clearly see this phenomenon in practice while observing an audience appreciating an artist after a good performance. Many people go up to congratulate him, but only a very few say something which brings an honest smile to his face. He knows then that only these few persons have grasped the true spirit of his performance, and this gives him more satisfaction than any amount of money that he would receive for his efforts. Similarly, when a young child gives an honest performance, it is only when you realize and understand his / her maturity level that a true valuation comes forth.
This passage has definitely uncomplicated and strengthened my convictions and beliefs towards the values of understanding, appreciation, valuation and acceptance of an idea or an individual.