It may surprise people who know me that I am not completely anti-gun. It seems like something I might be. I don’t like loud noises and I don’t like violence, and killing hurts me. I have to avert my eyes form a lot of TV and movies. But the gun thing is no longer simple for me. The last time I was stridently anti-gun was while lecturing my father about the dangers of guns. He happened to be holding off a midnight intruder with a hammer and wanted me to go get his gun. I was a senior in high school and I knew everything and I refused . . .
Most of the big problems we face today are created by human beings, and they have human solutions. If only we could and would change our ways. If only we could switch to a non-fossil fuel economy, we could solve dozens of well-known environmental and political problems. If only we would “just say no” to drugs, reckless conduct, sloth, and rampant consumerism. If only we would just buckle down and be more informed and more active citizens, we could keep a better eye on our government. It goes on and on. Well designed solutions already exist for so many of our problems. If only we would change, but we can’t seem to change. We tend to be trapped in our own destructive and ignorant ways.
How can we break out of this stagnant cycle? Back in 2002 at Psychology Today, in an article titled “The 10 Rules of Change,” Stan Goldberg wrote that change isn’t easy, but it is possible, and there’s more to it than just saying yes (or no). He offers ten observations and strategies for implementing change. They include the following (these are Goldberg’s ideas, as I interpret them):
1. All behaviors are complex. Therefore, break down the behavior into smaller parts and take baby steps. If you want to be a better musician, practice your scales, study your theory, practice new pieces, listen carefully to others performing, and a dozen other things.
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What happens when one of the finest classical musicians in the world decides to perform incognito in a Washington D.C. subway station for 45 minutes? In January, 2007 violinist Joshua Bell played a string of exquisite musical pieces on his Stradivarius in D.C.’s L’Enfant Metro Station, yet no crowd gathered and only $32 was thrown into his violin case. This is a man who was filling $100 seats at evening concerts at this time, yet barely anyone stopped to listen, and the exceptions to this rule were barely exceptions. Bell was repeatedly disoriented when he heard the total lack of applause at the conclusion of each of his riveting pieces. No one walked up to him and asked for his autograph.
Three minutes went by before something happened. Sixty-three people had already passed when, finally, there was a breakthrough of sorts. A middle-age man altered his gait for a split second, turning his head to notice that there seemed to be some guy playing music. Yes, the man kept walking, but it was something.
A half-minute later, Bell got his first donation. A woman threw in a buck and scooted off. It was not until six minutes into the performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened.
Things never got much better.
The Washington Post described this fascinating experiment in great detail, and provided video as well. The outcome invites conducting another experiment where a sophisticated symphony audience would listen to two symphonies playing behind curtains and were then asked to guess which one consisted of the career musicians and which one consisted of skilled high school students like these. It’s an experiment that would never be run, I assume, because it risks inflicting massive damage and embarrassment on the symphony and its audience.
But there’s another take-away from this experiment. At a gut level, when there is no gathered crowd, it’s not an important event. A world-class musician playing world-class music should seemingly be of the same importance, existentially speaking, wherever it occurs, whether that be in a packed symphony hall or in Mr. Bell’s living room. But that’s not how the world works. And even when a crowd gathers, it apparently needs to be the right kind of crowd. That is why the final game of the spring training baseball season is not significant, whereas the first game of the official season is of great significance, even though both of them are well attended.
In 1983, PBS gave this extraordinary unvarnished view of what it means to be trained to be a soldier. The six-part documentary is called “Anybody’s Son Will Do,” and the documentary focuses on boot camp at Paris Island.
Here’s one of the opening quotes: “The secret about basic training is that it’s not really about teaching people things at all. It’s about changing people so that they can do things they wouldn’t have dreamed of doing otherwise.” In Part III, the instructor asks the trainees to name that special person to whom they are dedicating all of their hard training. The answer: To your enemy, so that he can “die for his country.” The commentator adds that it doesn’t really matter who the enemy is. Rather, it’s the idea of an “outside threat that binds a combat unit together so strongly that its members will make the most extraordinary sacrifices for each other.”
In part V, the commentator mentions another key point of basic training: They indoctrinate the recruits with the idea that the enemy–whoever he may be–is not fully human, and so it’s all right to kill him.” Here’s an excerpt from an actual training session (also from Part V, starting at the 2:30 mark), discussing the extent which the Marines need to destroy the enemy:
You want to rip out his eyeballs, you want to tear apart his love machine. You want to destroy him, privates! You don’t wanna have nothing left of him. You want to send him home in a glad bag to his mommy.” [loud laughing from the recruits] . . . Marines are born trained killers, and you’ve got to prove that every day.”
Here’s part I:
It’s apparent throughout this documentary that soldier training depends upon hating one’s enemy. It is also apparent that many of the members of the military are religious. Somehow, through this mix, the religious command to “Love your enemy” co-exists with the military command to “Hate your enemy.”
A site called Brainz offers a list of what it terms the most revealing psychology experiments. This is a pretty good list, mostly of prominent social psychological experiments, and it includes working links to detailed descriptions of most of these experiments.
And you go to this site, you can review ten interesting psychological experiments from 2009, chosen by David Disalvo. Interesting, because they could have application to your own life.
Back in the 1970’s, when I was 17, I assumed the role of co-leader of a St. Louis 8-piece jazz-rock bank we called “Ego.” It was great fun (you’ll find a photo here). We learned a lot about performing music and we learned even more about people. I loved playing music back then—it unleashed something in me, something ineffable. Five years later, though, I was fully absorbed with law school, because I had come to the conclusion that I needed to have a stable career. I made this choice assuming that I could always play music on the side. But then I became a lawyer, a career that is a demanding mistress. Over the years, there was always something else that had to get done, much of it law-related, so I haven’t played much music for the past few decades, not until this past year. During the past year, I’ve been working hard at becoming a better guitarist, and there’s no better way to do that than by practicing an hour every day. That’s what I used to tell hundreds of guitar students during the nine years that I taught lessons. I told them to practice every day and that they would see dramatic results, guaranteed. It’s absolutely true. I’ve also worked hard to improve my singing over the past year. I never considered myself to be a singer, though I occasionally sang. Over the past six months, I’ve received a few voice lessons from local musician Leslie Sanazaro, and more recently a lesson from Charles Glenn, the other co-leader of Ego, whose talents are well-recognized in Saint Louis. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the result of putting time into music again. My guitar chops have improved dramatically. I am now a better jazz player than ever before. My voice is now something that no longer embarrasses me; I now see my voice as an instrument that has the ability to command at least as much attention as my guitar playing, and I’ve worked hard to shape my voice to mesh with various types of tunes.[caption id="attachment_11977" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image by clearviewstock at Dreamstime.com (with permission)"][/caption]
Last week was a benchmark of sorts. I performed at the Culinaria, a downtown grocery store for three hours. I was joined for thirty-minutes by an excellent violinist named Stephanie To, but the remainder of the three-hour session consisted of me playing the guitar and singing (pop, jazz and folk). Since that performance, I was invited to sign up to perform two additional gigs, and there are several others in the works at local Saint Louis establishments. I am now feeling that once again I can honestly and proudly claim that I am a “musician.” It was ironic that after making music a significant part of my life again, I came across Yusuf Islam’s DVD, Yusuf’s Café. Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, is an extraordinary musician (songwriter, guitarist, pianist and vocalist) who rebelled against the pace, the superficiality and the artificiality of life (his lyrics were autobiographical in these regards). As a result of this mismatch back in the late 70’s, he jumped from his then-hectic world into a much simpler world permeated by the Islamic faith, a world where his family and his God were priorities. For almost thirty years, Yusuf Islam had been under the belief that the Islamic faith did not allow the performance of his type of music, so he totally gave it up. He didn’t even own a guitar.