Thursday, August 8, 2013

in defense of the conservative

All creative people need something to rebel against, it's what gives their lives excitement, and it's creative people who make the clients' lives exciting.

‒ Paul Arden

One Friday evening last December, I went to Le Basile, a café in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, to run Operation Bar Games.  I had already covered arrondissements 1 through 6, so the 7th was up next.  I had my concerns about finding enough friendly bars in this part of Paris, one filled with embassies and government office buildings and considered to be the abode of many wealthy people.  Yet I was to be undeterred.

Le Basile is known as the hangout for students of Sciences Po, the most elite of political science schools in France, located just across the street.  I had been to the café several Fridays in the past and literally gotten lost in discussions on political science matters that I never knew existed.

So that evening, after getting my glass of cranberry juice at the counter, I headed towards the back of the room in order to meet whoever I saw that fit the bill, political science student or not.  I found a table of four by the wall facing the street, went over and started my routine upon arrival:

Me: Hi!
Table of Four (surprised): Hi.
Me (extending glass): Cheers!
Table of Four (still surprised, some willing, others reluctant): Cheers.
Me: So, are you guys left-siders?
Table of Four (confused): A what?
Me: A left-sider.
Table of Four (still confused): What's that?
Me: A left-sider is someone who believes that he can change the world.
Table of Four (smiling yet skeptic): Ah.

Soon after, the conversation takes a more typical turn, similar to one that foreigners in Paris meeting for the first time might have: "Where are you from?", "How long have you been in Paris?", "What are you doing in Paris?"  In the midst of all the chatter, a member of the table suggests that they all go out for a cigarette break.  And I am invited to come along.  How I love it when a random group of people in Paris accept me as one of their own.

So we all went outside the café and continued talking.  A girl from the group then tells me, "I don't think that you will have much success finding the kind of people that you are looking for here, as this part of the city is very conservative."

And I'm thinking: "And that's a bad thing?"

I think that it can be more meaningful to try changing the world in a place considered to be very conservative than not.  Why?  Because the opportunities for action are abundant in such a place.  They will keep someone totally dedicated to the task of changing the world motivated, pushing him to become better at what he does.  He may end up realizing his quest, or he may eventually fall short.  Regardless of the outcome, the experience will nonetheless be worthwhile because of his commitment to doing something great.

It's like working as a street cleaner.  How fulfilling would it be for a person truly dedicated to the task of street cleaning to go to streets that were already clean?  How much experience, how much fulfillment can he gain from cleaning what is already clean?  I bet you not much.  Perhaps he dislikes working in the dirtiest of streets, but for a devoted street cleaner to feel useful, he needs dirty streets.

And for a devoted world-changer ‒ or left-sider ‒ to feel useful, he needs conservative situations.  All the time?  Probably not.  But much of the time?  Oh yes.

Besides, it's exciting work.  Who wouldn't enjoy trying to change the world in a place where doing so is believed to be impossible, or where doing so is not given much thought, if at all?

Conservative places exist for a reason.  So let us try to see the benefit in them.

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