Every September there is a fantastic book festival here called Word on the Street. Everyone who values knowledge and the free exchange of ideas belongs there, regardless of age, background or worldview. Imagine a city park filled with booths promoting graphic novels, children’s stories, magazines, literary journals, literacy foundations, religious groups like Muslims and a spattering of neopagan and new age gurus, and even some authors promoting books that I think were self-published.
In the middle of the park one can find poetry and dramatic readings, special speakers on a variety of social and ethical topics, political debates, and Q&A sessions with a wide variety of publishers, authors, and bloggers. Many of the views represented each year are contradictory. It doesn’t matter, though, because this is a festival of curiosity, wonder at the world around us, and the cross-pollination of ideas.
Ideas rot from the inside out if we never test them, share them with others, or listen the views of people who see the world in a different way. It doesn’t matter what the idea is, isolation breeds extremist views that can do much more harm than good.
Think of what would happen if a small group of people were secluded from the outside world. Sooner or later, their descendants will become inbred and if new members are not at least occasionally introduced the community could easily die out altogether. Relying on the same gene pool (or way of looking at the world) year after year increases the chances that recessive genes (or really, really bad ideas) will pop up.
This is why I love Word on the Street. Yes, the food is delicious. Yes, it is wonderful to discover new authors, listen to discussions about e-books and blogging, or pick up free bookmarks or magazine samples at the booths. The exchange of ideas, though, is where the magic happens. Even in a large city like Toronto people tend to drift to other people who think, act and believe like them. This may be a diverse city comprised of many different communities but these communities still look and act like a small town in both positive and negative ways. A close-knit community can be fantastic support system; it can also be unbelievably suffocatingfor anyone who cannot fit the mold of who or what someone in that community is supposed to be.
Slowly I have been accumulating friends who value the art of conversation, who don’t expect anyone to change his or her mind or for any sort of consensus to be agreed upon. I just wish I knew how to stumble upon them more quickly!