Music & Peace. One World. One Song.
(This is the transcript of the video “Music & Peace: One World. One Song.” written and produced by Phil Circle.)
I’m always reminding people that music is not separate from our day-to-day lives. That it does not exist in a vacuum. I also feel that this is true of the concept of peace in the world. We cannot separate the question of peace from the living of our day-to-day lives.
Humans have a complex relationship with music and an even more complicated one with the concept of peace. The former only leads to debates over the best guitar solo or greatest R&B vocalist, but rarely goes so far as to really challenge a relationship. The latter, however, has led to wars in the name of keeping it.
This is an interesting and tragic example of the oxymoronic nature of humans. Music has countless versions of itself. It has an ever-widening list of hyphenated genres. As for peace, it’s so ambiguous and esoteric a concept, so rife with socio-political and religious dogma, it would appear at times impossible or even dangerous to try and define it. Everyone’s version of peace looks different. But everyone’s version of the best music does too.
Music and peace complement each other. They share space in the same place in our hearts. Music can bring an individual a feeling of peace by temporarily freeing one from the sufferings of the moment. Isn’t that a fine definition of peace? Personal peace? Freedom from suffering? Doesn’t this lead us to a sense of where peace happens?
If you look carefully at it, the ideal of peace has very little to do with the constructs of society, politics, and religion. Peace as a social construct, is naive at best.
Early spiritual practices grew out of the human need to smooth the rough edges between humans and the natural world we are a part of, that world we felt threatened by. And to explain the enigmatic. I think early political institutions grew out of the need for humans to smooth the rough edges between each other, especially as our populations grew. But music has always offered us these services, hasn’t it? It has always softened life’s rough edges and given expression to the unexplainable.
I’d like to try something. I’d like for you to think for a moment about a favorite song of yours. Any one will do. It’s okay to have more than one. I think we all have many favorites. I believe our favorites change and evolve with us. So, any song that truly moves you when you hear it, will do. Now, think about that favorite song. Give it a moment. Let it sink in. Pay attention to how it makes you feel as you hear it in your mind’s ear. Breathe with it as you hear it. Notice how the music breathes with you? Or is it the other way around?
Now, expand your awareness slowly. Start by bringing your immediate environment in. The people, places and things. All the nouns. As they move through your awareness, begin focusing on the people. But leave them as basic nouns. That is, give them no identifying features. Leave it at “that’s a human of some sort.”
Spread out now, into the area you live, the region it inhabits, and the country to which you belong. Move across the continent. Leave your hemisphere. Bring the rest of the world in, the entire planet. Include all 7.5 billion people on this little spinning globe. Now, we’re going to begin identifying. Zero in. Imagine just one of these people.
But wait! Don’t give any thought to where they are, who or what they worship, what they do for work, their looks or sexual orientation, whether or not they may or may not like you. Let them remain faceless, unidentified. Just keep them a completely ambiguous human somewhere else on Earth. They’re a mystery for now. Now, I’m going to give you just one quality about that person. And I want you to pay very close attention to your emotional reaction as you let it sink into your awareness. You ready?
Here’s one key quality of this ambiguous human: They love this same song you were just thinking about, the same tune you were letting well up in your emotional memory. They love it as deeply as you do. They feel the same heartfelt personal attachment to it. It tells their story as much as it tells yours.
Now let me ask you something. How did that make you feel about this person? If that were all you knew about them, wouldn’t it be great to know them? Keep this song and your new musical friend close, as we move through this next series of questions. We’ll come back to our new music-loving pal.
Let’s give some definition to the concept of peace and its relationship to music. Peace is a very fluid idea and is defined differently by different people. So, I’d like to begin with a sense of personal peace. How do you feel when you are at peace? What brings it? How do you create it? Does it involve other people? Peace on the planet will be unattainable without peace in the lives of individuals. Don’t you think? Can we share in this personal peace?
If we have an understanding or belief that we influence our environments, then the answer is an emphatic “yes.” Just think of that person that can walk into a room and brighten it.
The sharing aspect of music is analogous to the fact that joy shared brings personal peace. When we find joy in overcoming hardship, rather than investing energy in who to blame for that hardship, we accomplish something akin to the emotional freedom that comes when we play or listen to great music. Music, in fact, is joy.
The emotion a musician feels, while often tapping into the authentic emotion of the subject matter in a song, is more than anything the pure joy that comes from creating in that moment; literally bringing something forth from nothing. As the 20th century teacher-philosopher Joseph Campbell said, when we create music we come closest to our gods.
If we’re capable of creating such a profound joy with something as accessible as music, something so close to our spirit, why then should it be so difficult to create peace? If we can access joy in our lives, often through overcoming hardship and then inspiring others to do the same, how can it possibly be out of our reach to develop a wider peace in the world. Even if it’s just one person at a time, maybe one song at a time, isn’t it worth every effort?
I’d like to share a favorite quote of mine by peace advocate, educator, and Buddhist scholar Dr. Daisaku Ikeda.
“The poetic spirit encourages people in all ranks and places to return to their naked humanity. It embraces and affirms the whole world and all its inhabitants; it imparts the will to remain optimistic and unbending in the face of all hardships.”
“Optimistic and unbending in the face of all hardships.” That’s pretty powerful. And that’s what musicians and other artists do on a daily basis.
You see, we inform our art with the hardships and joys we experience. And then, intentionally or not, we share this poetic spirit with others. We “embrace and affirm the whole world,” and empower others to “remain optimistic and unbending” in the face of hardship.
Music does not change per se. At its core, it remains a means to tell stories of love and frustration, of victory and defeat, of life’s journey. It only evolves, growing new branches of expression, new means of creation and preservation. It survives. It is a living, breathing thing, and this is why we all gravitate to it. It is one of our most consistent symbioses.
Human needs do not change per se. We all have stories of love and frustration, of victory and defeat, and a life journey. Our selves and cultures evolve, growing new branches of expression, new means of creation and preservation. We survive with our planet. We are becoming one world culture, and it is a living, breathing thing, and this is why we should all be gravitating to it. It is one of our most consistent symbioses.
Like music and all its many forms and styles and genres, we don’t need to like every form, culture, dialect or tradition. But we can embrace its existence and others’ right to love it.
Now let’s talk about power. Power unifies. For good and bad. But it unifies. Anthropologists talk about three kinds of power that unify modern humans.
One is money. Money is a means of exchanging goods that we’ve put a fictional value on. In fact, anthropologists call it just that; a fiction. It is also one of the greatest sources of unified power on the planet.
Religious power, the second of the great influences on human cultures and socio-political systems, has been around from the earliest days of the modern human. Empire is considered the third greatest source of power to unify humans.
But there’s one unifying power that anthropologists seem to ignore: music. I think music may not be looked at from a power standpoint because it’s hard or impossible to quantify emotional power. And yet, economics (money) is influenced by emotion. Religion depends on one’s emotional commitment (love) of a savior or prophet or god. And empire inspires all kinds of emotional response from those whose are threatened.
Music is enjoyed, or at the very least utilized by all humans from the first to fourth worlds. It can unify people faster than a political cause or a stack of cash. Ever been to a huge concert and seen all the strangers dancing and singing and cheering the same songs? I think we can agree; music has the power to unify. How can we utilize this musical power for change?
Turning suffering into joy often happens when we’ve undergone and survived great hardships. Music is giving us the means to do this and is, like Joseph Campbell implied, bringing us closer to our Spirits — whatever you call yours.
As we continue to turn to music for a day-to-day source of entertainment, we’re also making it a source of comfort in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. More than ever before in human history, we’ve made music accessible to ourselves. We can, if we like, have music in our ears at any time and in any place.
I don’t see it as coincidental that our need for music has increased as our societies have become more deeply connected and change is happening faster than most of us can easily adapt to. I see it as part and parcel to humanity’s biological and cultural evolution that music keeps pace with change, otherwise we might not survive.
As music brings each of us peace and we gradually do adapt to changes, I can only hope to see the human species come to understand and accept the peace that each of us finds as individuals. Like a song loved by two strangers, we can come together in a common and shared song of peace.
You know that feeling you have when music calms you? Remember the way that favorite song of yours lightens up the weight of the world? That’s a form of peace. Remember your unidentified friend who loves the same song as much as you? Now pretend this individual is suddenly standing before you. You knew nothing about them, but that they love this same song that you love.
Now, as their identity begins to materialize, you learn some things about them. At least a few things they believe or do or say or represent, or perhaps the place they come from or people they live with, or work they do or the god they worship, potentially make you uncomfortable. Judgemental. Maybe even hateful. Now stop before you let yourself get uncomfortable.
Remember, you both love this amazing song that speaks to your individuality and lives in your heart of hearts.
Before you react to this person, ask yourself this: Why do these other aspects of this human being make me uncomfortable? Do I truly know everything about them and who they are? How can I judge them when they love the same song as I do?
Now that you know that this song that you believe so deeply represents your ideal emotional and spiritual self, is also a favorite of theirs, can you really change your views based on more superficial things? Constructs? Fictions? Maybe you didn’t really know that much to begin with.
Haven’t you ever met someone who you thought represented something you disliked or didn’t approve of, only to find they were completely different from what you expected? We all have a path. We all walk it for years in a blind following of what we’re taught as children. If we awaken to faults in this path, it’s usually too late to entirely shake our identities from it, very easily. And we all live in the shelter of our little corner of the world.
But the sky opens up to us when we listen to music. And so does our heart. This, my friends, is peace in the making, one person at a time. One song at a time.