Written by Chitra Pratap

There is a concept in Economics known as “opportunity cost”. It recognizes that trade-offs exists between the production of different goods and services. The opportunity cost of doing a certain activity is the gain forgone from the next best activity, had it been pursued instead. This concept extends to daily life as well. The cost of coming to college is the loss of income had we chosen to work instead. What is the opportunity cost of creative expression? Well, we seem to think it is the loss of time-time better spent adding to worthwhile talents which make ensuring a job less difficult.

Skeptical? I was too. Until I saw the disdain in my teachers’ eyes whenever I mentioned music practice in 12th grade. The future they saw for me was with an instrument on the sidewalk-an open hat in front of me, perhaps even luring children away from the rat race they run. It was only after assurances of “covering up” the material missed that I was allowed to step out of the classroom. Then came another challenge. To get certified, for what was the worth of having been a part of “cultural activities” if I hadn’t been certified? The value of an activity is defined as the ability to show future employees proof of one’s virtuosity. Else, the pursuit is worthless.

Interestingly, there has been a spurt of demand for out-of-the-box thinking by companies too, recently. Indians have been accused of not having enough out of the box ideas. And hence we have people trying to learn how to be creative. But creativity cannot be imparted. It cannot be learned or taught. It is something which comes from within, which has been curbed for far too long. We learn to follow the rules- to submit assignments on time, to follow directions to the T, to always do what we are told. To question-to wonder, to marvel, to think outside the box embedded in the aspiration to do well, lined with test papers and locked with the promise of a good job is an accomplishment not many manage to achieve. The fault here lies not with the people as individuals. It is in the inter-subjective understanding held by us as a society. People cannot be expected to break out of the cages that society as a whole has created for them. We must aspire to, as a whole, change the way we think of doing exactly what we are asked to. For how robust is this phenomena in the job market, when it is just seen as another box to check before appearing for the interview?

The meme which talks of how one shouldn’t watch movies, read books, listen to music-appreciate art at all-if one can’t respect the artist has an important point to make. The ability to choose out careers-even subjects-without fear of judgment or succumbing to pressures seems like a utopian vision. For instance, pursuing humanities is seen as the subject to take if one doesn’t have the ability to trigonometry-ate, or to calculate the rate of acceleration. The understanding of careers in these steams or otherwise would not be warped if it were seen as an active choice to pursue one’s interests. A respect for these careers and artists exists, but space needs to be provided by us as a society for those who wish to pursue these art forms as well.

So, as I began to take a step back from those activities which didn’t directly contribute to what I wanted to do in life-the age old “bade ho ke kya karoge” becoming more and more pertinent as I grew older-I felt as though a part of me slipped away. For mechanized robots are not what we are designed to be (Marxian thought aside please). For those not looking to pursue a career in the arts, the most important understanding here is the opportunity cost of goal-oriented pursuits. It is the loss of what makes us unique and different from one another. What makes us, us.

About the author

Chitra Pratap

C\'est la vie

Leave a Comment