Principles from songs
Earlier this year, I surprised my wife with tickets to see Howard Jones perform in the Egyptian Theater in Park City, Utah. The theater was small and intimate with Howard Jones on a small stage with just his piano and his voice. It’s reminiscent of VH1’s Storytellers where the artist tells stories about their life, inspiration for their songs, and other miscellaneous but intriguing tales that make the music come alive. Although I’ve seen Jones perform live many times before, on this night I was struck by how intensely positive all of his songs are.
Jones’ songs speak of principles of positivity that often seem to be forgotten by society and especially the media. Deep down, we all know these principles:
- Serve others
- Be grateful
- Be humble
- Surround yourself with positive influences
- Believe in a higher purpose and outcome
- Be in charge of your thoughts and emotions
Although there are variations of these principles taught by self-help experts, they all basically boil down to these core six concepts. It’s laughable how we continually forget these principles and become blind to our own contributions to societal conflicts and divisiveness. Since this is the case, how do we take the principles from Jones’ songs and apply them to ourselves?
Tendency to focus on ourselves
Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have similar fears and insecurities. We each have a story to tell. At our core, we fear persecution, shaming, embarrassment, and failure in the eyes of others. We are insecure about our abilities and our place in this world amongst family, friends, and others. We all have past experiences that made such significant impressions on our lives that we proceed cautiously to avoid duplicating the experiences. We have all been wronged by others—intentionally or unintentionally.
As a result, we have allowed ourselves to be dominated by those fears and insecurities. For some, they cower and stifle progress at the prospect of duplicating the wrongs of the past. For others, they let hate and stubbornness build up inside to the point they are blindly driven by the desire to get or keep control. Regardless of the reaction we consciously or unconsciously choose to take, we are all victims of our own creation.
Rules and competition
The late Steve Jobs once said, “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” To me, this means that the rules of life are based on the opinions of others who lived before me. There is a lot of wisdom in those rules but there is also a lot of context that needs to be understood when interpreting and applying those rules, for, as Steve Jobs pointed out, those rules were created by people no smarter than I! It is my duty to understand the “why” behind the rule, the context, the culture, and the nuance. Only then do I know how to apply it, how to change it, how to teach it, or, if necessary, how to eliminate it.
At some time in my past, I heard someone say, “Nobody wakes up in the morning with the intention to fail.” That saying has stuck with me ever since. Think about it. No matter how noble or deplorable the cause, nobody plans to fail in their attempt. As we look at those around us, we are all trying to do our best with what we know and the resources we have, trying not to fail along the way.
If we are all just “faking it until we make it,” then why are we allowing ourselves to live in fear and intimidation? Why do we believe we have to lose for others to win? Or, conversely, why do we believe others have to lose for us to win? With the ebbs and flows that life throws at all of us, aren’t we all concurrently winning and losing in various aspects of our lives?
Don’t take me wrong, I believe competition is a good thing. I don’t believe in participation medals and other ways modern society has found to celebrate mediocrity. I believe competition pushes us to be better, to be more resilient, to celebrate and to cry, to keep working, and to grow. Competition teaches us to be patient, to learn, to control emotions, and Ken Chlouber Founder of the Leadville 100 Race Series so famously says, “Dig deep into that inexhaustible well of grit, guts and determination.” No, competition is not a bad thing—it is the very life blood that brings meaning and purpose to life. However, competition does not define us as winners and losers. Some days we win, some days we lose, but regardless, we are individuals who matter. Our lives should contribute toward the betterment of society by teaching our children to compete to better their lives and to be resilient, patient, hard-working, enduring, creative, and kind.
No one is to blame
We are all hypocrites. That’s right, I said it and I’ll say it again—WE ARE ALL HYPOCRITES! Only, in our minds, each of us routinely justify our hypocrisy while simultaneously pointing the finger at others. Recently, we have all seen examples of this whether it be racial, political, ideological, sexual, gender, or others. In our attempts to convert others to our way of thinking, whether it be for validation, power, or control, we become the very bigots we argue others are. This leads to further digging in of heels by both sides where we spend more time and energy finding the fault in our supposed enemies, catching them in their words and proving them wrong. We are trying to make others the losers so we can be the winner.
Aggressive arguing without a concerted effort to listen and understand another’s viewpoint is an absolute waste of time. Why do we do it? Why do our politicians do it incessantly? Why does the press do it? Why do our politically extreme friends and family do it? Don’t they know that NOBODY cares what they are saying when they are not willing to listen? Folks, it’s time to take a chill pill and “simma down na.”
Let us all remember a basic truth that has never changed since the existence of humanity—we are all different. That’s right. We have different views of the world, different likes and dislikes, different needs, different experiences, and different wants. I often jokingly tell my kids that that is why we have menus in restaurants. As long as we are all different, we are never going to see eye to eye all the time. We are never going to be in 100% agreement. So why do we keep trying to pressure and shame each other into compliance? It has never worked nor will it ever work. So everyone stop trying.
Focus on listening
Let’s focus our energies on a better method—listening and compromising, which is easier said than done. Remember that a principle of positivity is humility. The only way we will be willing to listen to our enemy is to first be humble and willing to understand. All it takes is one participant of an argument to humble themselves and show a willingness to back down for both parties to stop arguing and actually find solutions. Be that person.
We cannot establish or even maintain relationships with family, friends, or co-workers if we base those relationships on preconceived outcomes. What I mean is we can’t set an expectation on the other person, that through the various discussions we have in the relationship, that person will eventually think like me. Instead, we must be genuinely interested in that person, their individuality, beliefs, feelings, etc. even though it may not match our own. We must listen to seek understanding and not simply to respond.
Most of us have good intentions to raise awareness to the difficult issues in society, to help those who are isolated and alone. We believe that our way is the only correct way to solve the problem. However, without two-way dialogue, understanding, and compromise, our “noble” attempts to improve the lives of the minority only shift or create a new minority with the same problems. True progress can only be made when two sides truly come together to work out their differences, leaving all competition, blame, and rhetoric aside.
I’m not trying to be sappy and all lovey dovey. However, there has to be an element of caring to achieve true compromise. If you are so self-centered that you cannot even consider the person’s viewpoint across from you, then you’ve got some remove-the-narcissist work to do. Fortunately, most of us just need a simple reminder in the heat of the moment to “simma down na” and actually listen.
Don’t compare your best with another’s worst and give credit where credit is due. There are a lot of great people out there doing amazing things. To think that we are the only ones who can think of good ideas, have all the answers, or know all the facts is foolish, egotistical, and narrow-minded. Instead, we should be striving to understand many viewpoints and feelings. We should be talking about the issues and not bashing the character of specific individuals.
So, let us each put our competitive nature aside and first seek to understand. Seek to love instead of destroy. This is not a competition and there does not need to be a loser for each of us to win.
Let us be humble and grateful. By surrounding ourselves with positive influences from both sides of the conflict and serving others on both sides, we can truly start to comprehend their needs and develop a more well-rounded understanding of the situation. The old saying, “There are two sides to every story” is still relevant. We each have a story to tell. What we need now is more people willing to listen.