*First Published with Union Times*
When was the last time you felt like you were a cultured participant in the larger world? Has it been awhile since you felt edgy and sophisticated? Or maybe even just intellectually stimulated? As humans we stumble back and forth between exploration and safety, and more often than not it is simply easier to remain within our safety zones, especially when stressors are added, such as being overwhelmed at work or struggling with family issues. We set aside one of our greatest opportunities, to sharpen our minds and connect with the various cultures of the world, almost without thought because we lose faith that we are capable of change.
I’m telling you now; you can be the cosmopolitan figure you admire. Here are six fundamental changes you can make this summer that will cultivate a mentality of worldly sophistication and intellectual vibrancy.
First is first! If you want to be cultured, you need to be around culture. You need to seek it out! No matter where you live, I assure you, someone is doing something. Whether it is an artist’s retrospective, a farmer’s market, or a play, there is always something going on in every town. Attend as many cultural events as possible, even the ones you don’t know much about. Take time to do a little research on the event before you go to improve your understanding and enjoyment, or, if you don’t have the time to prepare, try to learn as much as you can about the event while you’re there. The more you know about the reason behind the occasion, the more meaning you will take away from it and the easier it will be to draw connections to other significant events.
Little Hint: Although spontaneity is exciting, you might miss a lot of wonderful cultural opportunities if you only attend events that you happen to stumble upon. Take time to find a few event calendars/websites relevant to your area and do a little research on cultural events near you. Check in on them once or twice a month to add anything you find interesting to your calendar. You don’t have to attend, but at least you will know what’s happening in the creative world without constantly referencing a million websites throughout the month.
While you’re at these events, take advantage of the crowd. Many individuals you will see at these gatherings are passionate investors in the culture around them. People who attend art exhibits, plays, and performances tend to be quite interesting characters with diverse backgrounds. I say diverse because, as fancy as attending the opera might sound, attendance is not exclusive to the privileged classes. After all, education, wealth, and status do not make one cultured. The unifying factor among cosmopolitan crowds is the pursuit of knowledge, understanding, and human connection. So don’t just stick to your comfort clique. If you do, you will miss out on the opportunity to connect with some of the most interesting people in your community that you have not met yet. And if you’re not sure how to strike up a conversation, simply try asking the person next to you what they think of the event. Chances are, they will be tickled that you want their opinion!
Which brings me to the next step – Surround yourself with people you admire and from whom you can learn. As social creatures, humans naturally take on the characteristics and habits of the people around them. Whether we want to believe it or not, we are all very impressionable. We pick up social cues naturally in pursuit of approval and inclusion by our tribe. Over millions of years of evolution, humans have learned that we will be safer as a part of a larger group. Subsequently, we have the conscious and subconscious desire to do as others do. Make this work towards your advantage! Choose your friends smartly. Include only people that you admire, and open up your social circle to include people who you wouldn’t normally think of as “fitting in” with your group of friends.
For example, I have a friend, Karl, who would look like my grandfather to anyone passing us by. Well he’s not my grandfather. Karl is a sixty-nine year old artist and writer who has lived and worked in London’s energetic theater scene since the early sixties. The names he drops without thought would shock you, the knowledge he possesses would overwhelm you, and his stories are something you would find in a salacious celebrity memoir. The things I have learned from him and the new connections I have made while we ramble around London are impossible to garner in a classroom.
So blow the dust off of your social circle. Revamp it by getting rid of negative influencers and opening it up to new and admirable characters!
Always seek new ways to open doors for yourself. Although you do not need an education from Oxford or Harvard to be cosmopolitan, most culturally sophisticated crowds are filled with people who place great emphasis on the perpetual pursuit of self-education and understanding. You will most likely encounter multiple languages and diverse opinions on art and current events. People will want to hear what you have to say as well. Make sure you know what you’re talking about before you just throw an opinion out there. Stay abreast of what is going on in the world by reading the newspaper (or news website) on a daily basis, even for just a few minutes in the morning while you drink your coffee/tea/juice. You will be very impressed by yourself when you are able to contribute a meaningful thought to a conversation about global politics that your boss brought up in passing.
Lift up the caliber of your conversations by bringing up topics that extend beyond the usual chitchat. Too many times at parties I have been completely bored by the lack of diversity in discussions, especially at parties with young people. Many people become addicted to following the track they have laid out for themselves. They forget that they are experiencing only a small portion of the world. Usually, these same people think that they are not capable of doing anything after work but an easy dinner and Netflix. In the end, they really have nothing to say about anything other than themselves.
You are different. You are interested in the bigger picture, in learning new things, and making changes for the better. Don’t fall into the television trap. Turn the screens off after work. You can saturate your life with new experiences very easily every day. Turn discover mode on in your music app to encounter new artists you would have never heard of otherwise. Try your hand at cooking new dishes that make your mouth water. Read meaningful literature and discuss it with a friend. Go to the musician’s salon that takes place down the road every third Thursday. Learn French and meet some lovely French people. Whatever it is that interests you, pursue it!
After all, cosmopolitanism is fundamentally an ability to participate in the larger world. Be open to and accepting of new and unusual cultures. Keep an open mind when encountering people with different backgrounds. Traditional Kabuki Theater may not be your cup of tea, but it says something about the history and tradition of your Japanese friends. Truly cosmopolitan people are sensitive and interested in the world around them. They will feel at home almost anywhere on this planet. This quality shows a strength of character that causes one’s environment to be a reflection of oneself and not the other way around.
Cosmopolitanism at its most fundamental is a tapestry of human thought and connection. It’s about being an active and conscientious member of this collective life. Enhance your personal experiences with knowledge, cultivate your environment, learn the importance of your own opinion, and engage in your surroundings. History is happening now. Are you a part of it?