I was recently reminded that art is more than a shared cultural obsession.
Like many families, we have developed a shared admiration of the brilliant songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, Hamilton. We've not seen it, but the score is sufficiently catchy and the lyrics are so deft and clever that it has captivated us in a delight that knows no generational boundaries.
The soundtrack plays in the background when we hold family game nights. The kids listen when they do the dishes after dinner, making the chore pass painlessly. Every couple of weeks we have a Hamilton karaoke night. It's either that good or we're that hooked.
The kids like to demonstrate their mastery of the lyrics by performing a song (or two, or three) for the tired parental audience at bedtime. The intimacy with the lyrics, however, cultivates empathy with the characters who recite them.
Like many parents, I sometimes unwittingly give conflicting messages. My son, an occasional procrastinator, was reading for pleasure instead of tending to his responsibilities. I asked him to take a shower before dinner, not realizing my wife had requested he clean up his schoolwork (which was spread over the kitchen table) one minute earlier.
He sighed melodramatically and responded: "I feel just like General Washington in the song Right Hand Man: I cannot be everywhere at once, people!"
I couldn't help but crack a smile to see how living and breathing this music had allowed a 9 year old boy to develop empathy for a long-dead founding father stretched thin in his duties.
Art fosters empathy.
I cringe when I read how budgets for the humanities are routinely placed on the chopping block by schools trying to emphasize math and engineering curricula to parents worried solely about the future employability of their children.
Yes, their children need to be made more employable. But they also need to be made more human.
The arts are inherently valuable, not for some competitive edge they grant our children in the workplace, but because it should be in every parents' interest to cultivate empathic human beings.
Most jobs are not reclusive bastions for hermit thinkers, but require a significant degree of plays-well-with-others human interaction.
So take heart, tiger parents: being a more empathic human being is likely to make your child a more employable human being.