Every day, people are inspired to do heroic things. They save children from fires. They stand up to bullies. They perform selfless acts. Some are inspired by a sense of personal purpose. As members of a wider society, though, huge numbers are inspired by the actions of others. You do great things because it’s what those you look up to would do. It’s when people forget this that we find a dangerous disconnect in the idea of funding arts, sports, or anything else that doesn’t necessarily have a direct financial outcome.
It struck me as I heard a discussion countries cutting funding for sports during the 2016 Olympics. What are the merits and pitfalls, they were arguing, of encouraging sports training? The answer to this seemed so obvious to me that I found it remarkable there was any room for argument. When a country’s sportsmen achieve, it is unifying, it is inspiring. During the Olympics, billions of people, globally, benefit from the lifelong commitment of a few. Anyone watching the achievements of these individuals who have dedicated everything to a chance at greatness, cannot help but want to find greatness themselves.
Spread across the masses, that inspiration must lead to so much. People going the extra mile at work, people being more generous, people doing all they can to feel that little bit better about themselves. And it’s not just the winners that inspire: you don’t have to see your country’s sportsmen defeat the world to want to do more with yourself. Seeing someone trying is enough to make you want to try too.
Thinking of the direct financial reward of funding sports and arts ignores the fact that those people who make the most money take their inspiration from heroes, too. And where better to look for heroes than in sporting champions? Maybe those heroes were financial successes and maybe they weren’t. The point is they inspired, and whatever means they had to inspire were worth it.
Sportsmen and artists are the same in this respect. It is not the financial gain that is important. It is the impact that their lives have on others that matters. If your actions inspire others, whatever you do, there is no price you can put on that.