Fascinating proposition: finding a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people. First, I must applaud you for your thought-provoking questions. “Focus” is key to undertaking anything, and this question is certainly one that will help me focus. I have long subscribed to the Gandhi quote (paraphrasing) “Be the change you want to see in others.” Much of the work I do is in helping people and companies find and define their missions and purpose. I would like to extend that into a more compelling movement — namely, a movement to help people discover and nurture the heroes within themselves. Using the Gandhi quote as a template, if we can learn to cultivate and embrace our own inner hero, we will be even more likely to produce acts of everyday heroism in the world.
I had the pleasure interviewing Ron Ovadia.
Southern California-based songwriter Ron Ovadia has been creating songs with meaning for years. He believes that music has a powerful purpose and can help connect people to a greater cause and to each other.
His predilection toward anthem-like songs took a literal turn when he co-authored the English translation of the Swiss National Anthem (2020). Ron is currently working on his next song, “No Place For Hate”, as an antidote to the rising tide of hate and disharmony that is so pervasive.
Besides focusing on aspirational songs, Ron has written many other songs, including:
“Crossing the Line” (Ovadia/Josefs) — the title song of this film
“If God Can Forgive Me” (Ovadia/Grant/Kimmel) — an award-winning Country song
“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (Grant/Ovadia) — the Emmy®-nominated title song for the animated TV series
“When You’ve Got Imagination” (Grant/Ovadia) — an award-winning composition
Thank you so much for doing this with us Ron! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?
I grew up in Los Angeles, in a multiracial neighborhood where I learned to respect diversity, champion the underdog, and believe that often times the best way to help yourself is to help others. Even back in the late ’60s I was involved in the civil rights movement and admired Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy and others who had heroic missions. I also witnessed the strength in collective action that unites people and makes them even stronger. This foundation has helped shape who I am today, and it informs how I relate to others and the projects I choose that can illuminate causes that help bring people together toward a shared and productive goal.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A book that had a significant influence on me early on is Profiles in Courage, by John F. Kennedy (with “a little help” from his speechwriter, Ted Sorenson). It resonated deeply (and still does) because it profiles the integrity of eight US senators who defied their partisan constituents to do what they felt was right, suffering condemnation and popularity in the process. Could anything be more relevant in today’s political climate, where there appears to be a dearth of courage in our highly partisan political climate? A book that is next up on my radar screen is The Alchemist, by Brazilian novelist and lyricist Paulo Coelho, a magical story about a shepherd boy who searches for a worldly treasure in a distant land. Its theme is the importance of listening to your heart and pursing your dreams. My hope is that it will be reminder to never stop looking for the “hero” within myself and to strive to create a life that is nothing less than heroic.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Three quotes (among many) stand out: “Be yourself; everyone else is taken” (Oscar Wilde). “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend” (Abraham Lincoln). “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose” (James Baldwin). I selected three quotes because they are all very relevant to me: “Be yourself…” has served as a mantra to help me define and redefine who I am so that I know I am living my own life and not someone else’s. “…Make (an enemy) a friend” reinforces the idea that, despite our differences, we all have to live with one another. Divisiveness and tribalism is the scourge of our time, especially in the US, and we will only overcome this through our shared humanity and through acts of kindness and courage that connect us. The Baldwin quote is profound reminder that everyone needs to have a stake in the community and in society; those who don’t have a vested interest can feel alienated, unaccountable, and in some cases might choose a destructive rather than productive path.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact effort that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you are trying to address?
My contribution during the COVID-19 pandemic was an original song with a positive message. I am trying to highlight the many people “on the front line” of the pandemic who have been put in critical positions requiring heroic responses. These essential workers, healthcare workers, and others have courageously risen to the occasion to meet the challenges we have all faced, putting their lives on the line to save our lives. They deserve our heartfelt thanks and our gratitude, and I wanted to make sure that I paid tribute to them.
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?
Being a hero means giving your life to something bigger than yourself. It also means having courage as well as compassion. But being a hero doesn’t mean pursuing something blindly or fearlessly. Rather, heroes must often overcome fear — doing what must be done in a given situation, no matter how difficult the task, simply because it’s the right thing to do.
In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.
Five characteristics of a hero: leadership, courage, persistence, compassion and sacrifice. These are by no means the only fine characteristics, but they are five that stand out for me. I will share examples of individuals who embody these qualities, though in many cases these and other heroes have most of these virtues.
Leadership: Winston Churchill immediately comes to mind. At a time when the world was facing its greatest villain, Adolf Hitler, who seemed unstoppable, it took nothing less than the resolute leadership of Churchill to help stem the tide in WWII.
Courage: Most of us are old enough to remember the Cold War between the US and the former USSR, and the constant fear it engendered. It took tremendous courage on the part of Mikhail Gorbachev to voluntarily surrender power and allow Soviet communism to dissolve, but it was necessary to save his nation from continued repression, and eventual violence and turmoil. The end of the Soviet empire also allowed the world to heave a collective sigh over a far less-likely threat of a nuclear showdown.
Persistence and Compassion are two essential qualities of a hero, and Nelson Mandela is a prime example of both. As a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, Mandela was jailed for 27 years! That he had the persistence to endure this unimaginably long period, and enrich his mind and soul in the process, was heroic enough. But to then be freed and, instead of seeking revenge on his captors, show compassion for them, was beyond heroic. Because of Mandela, South Africa avoided a seemingly inevitable bloodbath in ending apartheid. He became the nation’s first black head of state in their first fully representative democratic election.
Sacrifice: Hollywood loves a hero, and it is only fitting that I cite a film hero. With all due respect to the superheroes, whether animated (Superman) or simply idealized (James Bond), I prefer to cite someone who personifies the virtue of sacrifice: George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), from Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Bailey sacrifices his own dreams in order to help others, and only after the intervention of an angel is reminded how many lives he has helped — something he is far too humble to grasp on his own. There are many other heroes and “sheroes” too numerous to mention, but the imprints they have left on our world — be it the real world or through films — are indelible.
If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?
I believe many people have an “inner hero” — a generous, caring, serving side that, by nature, wants to help others in time of need. I also think these times often demand a level of strength, conviction, and risk-taking. So it’s a combination of the willingness to serve coupled with the strength to take action. For ordinary people to perform extraordinary acts, it also takes the confidence to believe in one’s own resilience — a feeling that no matter what the challenge, you will come through it stronger and personally gratified for the effort. Truth is, there is something extremely satisfying about helping another person — not because you are expected to or you will receive a reward, but because your action is often unexpected, and the reward is the act itself.
What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?
I do not consider the action I took to be “heroic” per se. I did what any caring, appreciative person would do to recognize the efforts of the true “heroes of the front line” in the Coronavirus pandemic. These selfless healthcare personnel, first responders, and essential workers risked their health, even lives, to make sure others received the care they needed. The catalyst? I was watching one news program after another that talked about these “heroes” and I decided that I, too, needed to show my gratitude and acknowledge their contributions — in a way that best reflected my means of creative expression: an original song with a video.
Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?
I think of heroes as people whose virtues and values you try to “channel” when you face an uncertain situation where perspective and clarity are called for. These heroes become role models whom we look up to. Historically, three of my greatest heroes were Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi, with Helen Keller, Marie Curie, and Leonardo Di Vinci not far behind. But in my childhood, I also had other, more contextually specific heroes. I was enamored of space exploration and displayed large photos of two space travelers — American astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin — side-by-side on my wall. It was my homage to space exploration as well as my symbolic way, at age 11 or 12, to try to pierce through a Cold War with two heroes from adversarial nations — in a shared mission. Many of today’s “heroes” to whom I look up are working behind the scenes to ensure the cause of justice. One that immediately comes to mind is Sherrilyn Ifell, director of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. Michelle Obama is another hero — an extraordinary role model for so many young Americans. I wish I count point to a current hero who stands out front and center on the political landscape. We could use one now that Barack Obama is out of the limelight. But the reality is, there are heroes all around us — parents who raise children, firefighters who come to our rescue, especially with the increasing number of fires. And yes, “heroes of the front line” during the Coronavirus pandemic, who remind us that it is ordinary people undertaking extraordinary acts of bravery and sacrifice that truly make a difference in our world, day in and day out.
Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?
What frightens me most about the pandemic is that, in the midst of a public health crisis — the type of calamity that should unite our country — it has been politicized. The misinformation stemming from this has hindered a timely and appropriate response, and as a result the numbers of COVID-19 cases are increasing, not decreasing. Heroes are also truthful, accountable, and responsible for their actions. We have missed that heroism in our political leaders at the top, though the silver lining is that governors — both Democrats and Republicans alike — have risen to the occasion to help fill the void. But it just hasn’t been enough, and the effort has been too fragmented.
Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?
People give me hope for the future, especially young people who will inherit this future. Their actions, compassion, and respect for diversity and inclusion give me hope that, through our democratic process, we will create a better and more just world — one that will unite us, not divide us. Regrettably, we appear to be on a divisive course at the moment, instead of a course that connects us through collaboration and cooperation.
What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?
What inspires me most is people’s coming together. Times of strife encourage connectedness. I have seen so many people create new bonds and resurrect old ones, finding strength in friends, family and neighbors. It is encouraging to see these connections, especially in the face of a broader, political landscape that, in my opinion, does quite the opposite.
Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.
A crisis such as this can’t help but make one reassess their worldview. It makes you appreciate how fragile and vulnerable we all are and how much we rely on the collective action of others in order to survive. It has also reminded me that we are all interconnected and must respect that connection and work to bridge that which divides us. Black Lives Matter is a painful reminder that it is finally time to overcome perhaps the greatest pandemic of all in this country — racism. But our challenges are not limited to domestic ones; they are evident on a global scale, as well. The times of political isolationism can no longer work. We are one big global family, especially with the internet, and must work together as a family. Today’s challenge is a pandemic. But the ever-increasing effects of climate change threaten future generations. People cannot survive if they do not work together. Only through strong, enduring connections can we truly create a world and a future in which we can not only survive, but thrive.
What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?
The change I would like to see come from this crisis is for people to have more respect for one another, more respect for science, and more respect for that which unites us as people, regardless of our politics. Our society is woven by a common thread of humanity, and we can never lose that. We must reassess, strengthen our preparedness for future pandemics, and study the models of countries that have successfully responded to the Coronavirus pandemic. Some speculate that authoritarian states can better respond to crises such as COVID-19 because they can better control the masses. I don’t believe this is the key variable. Rather, it is trust — trust in the institutions that can protect us, in the media that can inform us, and in each other, dismissing the divisions of “left” and “right” and choosing instead to do what is right.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
First, I would remind them of the time-honored words of John F. Kennedy, from his inaugural address on January 20, 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” We are all accountable for our future — young people especially because they will have more years in that future to enjoy. Get involved. Volunteer. Most of all, find a cause you believe in, and whether it is vocation or an avocation, support it and make it part of your life’s work. Let social responsibility supersede personal entitlement. You are the heroes who will inherit this world. Find the hero within yourself and the heroic deeds you can do to help change our world.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Fascinating proposition: finding a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people. First, I must applaud you for your thought-provoking questions. “Focus” is key to undertaking anything, and this question is certainly one that will help me focus.
I have long subscribed to the Gandhi quote (paraphrasing) “Be the change you want to see in others.” Much of the work I do is in helping people and companies find and define their missions and purpose. I would like to extend that into a more compelling movement — namely, a movement to help people discover and nurture the heroes within themselves. Using the Gandhi quote as a template, if we can learn to cultivate and embrace our own inner hero, we will be even more likely to produce acts of everyday heroism in the world.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
A logical answer would be to shoot hoops with Barack Obama; or, as a songwriter, have a beer with Willie Nelson. But I needn’t look that far. This special breakfast or lunch would be with my wife, Jackie, who is a hero in my eyes, who has all the qualities of a hero, and who has been performing heroic acts ever since she immigrated to this country — not speaking a word of English. Learning “English as a 4th language” is no easy feat, yet she speaks so fluidly and expresses herself with such depth. Because of it, she is able to better display her everyday heroic acts of teaching others how to enhance their physical and mental health and wellbeing. (Having that special meeting with Jackie would also be a lot easier, logistically!)
How can our readers follow you online?
The most direct way is on my website: www.ronovadiamusic.com
There, you can see the video and hear the song for “Heroes of the Front-line”, and you can send me a message, too. I love hearing from people, and I do my best to reply to every single one who takes the time to write me. I also encourage people to leave a comment on the video, which YouTube allows you to do. You can get there directly from my website. I deeply appreciate every comment and reaction. Please follow me on YouTube so that you’ll know when I release another one (HINT: I am working on a new one now). I also have a Facebook page, which is linked on my website. But just in case you want a direct link, it’s https://www.facebook.com/ronovadiamusic/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!