Creating Connections in the Age of Contempt

Advice for arts and cultural organizations doesn’t often appear in the opinion section of the New York Times, and at face value Karen Stohr’s latest “Our New Age of Contempt” piece stays fairly true to that trend.

But reading between the lines, Stohr’s observations about our current political discourse—the proliferation of contempt in our daily political conversations and the raw exposure of our feelings on social media, on our streets, and even on our clothing—make it achingly clear that we need more, not less, connection in our lives.

The Danger of Contempt

Stohr explains—and, as usual, paraphrasing doesn’t do the whole piece justice—that contempt, that feeling that a person is worthless or beneath consideration, is threatening our ability to understand one another. 

Separate from anger, which is directed at specific opinions or behaviors, contempt is directed at the entire person. And therein lies the danger—for in contempt, we dismiss the entire person, dehumanize them, mark them “unworthy of engagement and thus not a full member of the human community.”

Stohr shares examples of how contempt permeated our political discourse this past election season and frankly, neither side of the aisle is innocent. 

Given this new reality, what exactly can we do to rise above this narrative of contempt? According to Stohr,

“The only real defense against contempt is the consistent, strong and loud insistence that each one of us be regarded as a full participant in our shared political life, entitled to hold all others accountable for how we are treated.”

Our challenge and our opportunity

Can we, as artists and arts providers, champion that insistence? Can we move beyond our inclination for contempt and help create connections in our communities? Surely it will be incredibly difficult, but if the arts cannot be this space, in this time, what can?