Getting culture the organic way

There is no benefit in dragging your kids to a cultural event if they're not interested.

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It began five minutes after the performance started.

Three children, between ages six and 10, began fidgeting on their plush Emirates Palace seats while audience members with Dh300 tickets watched La Bayadère and pretended not to notice.

However, the disruption grew steadily worse, as the eldest - and strongest - thought the best way to get a rise out of his brother was by punching him in the arm. The victim's rage even overshadowed the dramatic score of the orchestra.

This time, audience members stared daggers at the children and the parent. The latter dispensed justice swiftly by splitting them apart and sitting between them; a move creating a brotherly cold war throughout the remaining hour of the performance.

While it's easy to point fingers at the children, part of the blame lies with the parents.

Since the UAE is growing - albeit slowly but surely - as a cultural hot spot, one can sympathise with parents seizing the opportunity to take their kids to world-class artistic events.

Unlike sports or weddings, however, where healthy movement and a free feed could be salvaged at minimum, there is no benefit in dragging an unwilling child to an arts event.

Arts is not like medicine. There is no such thing as "it will be good for him". Instead, such agonising events, coupled with public shaming as a result of open chastisement, could create lifelong antipathy.

Not long ago, a friend shuddered when it was announced that Wagner's Ring Cycle would be screened as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival.

It would have been understandable if the reaction was due to the epic 15-hour running time. But this person's despair stemmed from a deeper place: when she was a young teenager, a parent took her and her siblings to watch the opera performed live over three consecutive nights.

Can you blame her for her lifelong aversion to the genre? And unlike the dentist, there's no real gain in sucking it up and returning to the hot-seat.

I consider myself a voracious reader, but those who knew me as a child would have laughed at the idea. After being saddled with "important" texts to read at school (why is it always coming-of-age stories from me?) and family members suffocating me with Enid Blyton books, I swore off personal reading for nearly a decade.

It wasn't until I discovered a dusty 1971 crime novel by Ed McBain called Hail to the Chief at my local high school that I rediscovered the joys of reading. For one thing, the cover was cool: a biker with a leather jacket holding a knife. The story was thrilling: murder and intrigue - it was all so adult.

The book was a pathway to a creative world I became so immersed in, it allowed me to dream of becoming a journalist.

My development occurred organically and I am sure it would have been derailed if I had been forced by teachers or parents to digest a weekly copy of The Economist.

So parents, let kids be kids. There is no sure-fire formula to being cultured. And even if there were, it would be longer lasting if kids discovered it on their own terms.


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