Trying to enjoy everything is foolish

Photo by Sara Schmitt

I remember tackling a difficult orchestral work a few years ago when I played violin in my city’s youth symphony orchestra. It was Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, and we spent hours at it every rehearsal.

Although I had a solid four months to appreciate the intricacies of the piece, I never grew to like it. It never appealed to me, with its confrontational percussion and hostile dissonance. Yet somehow that lack of enjoyment of a piece so prominent in classical music might come across to some as narrow-minded.

There exist various perceptions of what it means to be open-minded. One is that open-mindedness is based on whether you will train yourself to enjoy all things and appreciate value by, at the very least, being neutral about it rather than disliking it. The key in this definition is the belief that there is a certain ignorance in actively disliking a work rather than being neutral about it. According to this definition, in order to be truly open-minded, you must push yourself to not only explore all things but also enjoy all things because training yourself to do so opens doors to a wider scope of what is available. So if Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite is enjoyed by some people, should I not have the capacity to enjoy it as well?

While I find this to be an interesting perspective, I also believe it to be profoundly untrue.

I believe that one is open-minded by virtue of the fact that one understands that there is value in something. While it may be true that it is important to give something that may be initially unappealing a second, or even third, chance, I think forcing yourself to like everything is futile.

I also believe that neutrality, as a middle ground between distaste and enjoyment, is worse than utter contempt. It conveys a certain indifference, a lack of motivation to appreciate or understand. While neutrality can be interpreted in different ways, open-mindedness involves forming opinions; neutrality, if equated with indifference, is more disrespectful to a work of art or piece of human progress than a blatant dislike for it. It is better to have an opinion — whether positive or negative — to show an effort in understanding the value of something rather than to be indifferent.

The counter to this may be that if a work is truly important, one should put in the effort to have the result be enjoyment, to train oneself to enjoy the work. If that were the result, I may as well be miserably playing Stravinsky until I die.

Thus, looking at this from a realistic perspective we are either all close-minded or the initial argument on effort as a means for enjoyment does not hold true. It is futile to attempt to enjoy all “important” things, and it is up to the individual to choose what he or she believes is “important.”

I think awareness, rather than enjoyment, equates to open-mindedness. Enjoy the things you enjoy; appreciate the things you do not.