Music, Fear, Culture

Ta-Nehisi Coats discussed growing up in America as a black man in his book Between the World and Me and two of the ideas he continually returned to were fear and not having control of ones body as a black man. Coats described the way that fear made its way into his daily life and manifested in the decisions he made, in the dangers of the places he went, and in the possibility of his future being taken away at any moment. By describing his understanding of the relationship between black people and police he described the possibility of other people using his body to control him. Combined, these forces shaped the culture around Coats as he grew up in ways both implicit and explicit. He never felt truly secure, and he never felt that there was anything physical that he had control over.

 

Born out of this culture, Coats explains, was music and attitudes that other people condemned. Describing his peers and their adaptations to these pressures Coats writes, “I heard the fear in the first music I ever knew,  the music that pumped from boom boxes full of grand boast and bluster. The boys who stood out on Garrision and Liberty up on Park Heights loved this music because it told them, against all evidence and odds, that they were masters of their own lives, their own streets, and their own bodies.”

 

The rap music so frequently reviled by people outside of the black community, when put in context, becomes more than just music with violent and explicit lyrics. It becomes a response to a world that pushes black people to live in fear and to live without control of even their most basic possession, their body. When police go out of their way to stop black people, search their person and property for drugs, and beat or use deadly force at the slightest sign of danger the boastfulness and power inducing feeling of rap music and gangster culture becomes more understandable. We live in a world where very few people are outwardly racist and where most people understand the danger in racist thinking, but nevertheless, racism continues with us thanks to our tribal brain. It exists not in individuals and their actions, but in systems, processes, and policies that appear race neutral but impact different racial groups in different ways. Racism today does not express itself directly, but is supported indirectly by those advantaged groups who do not want to see the status quo change and who hold up merit and colorblindness as evidence of a lack of racism, despite clear disparate outcomes for racial and minority groups.

 

The moment we meet another person we make snap judgements about them, about who we think they are, about whether we think they are like us, and about whether we can trust them. Colin Wright in his book Considerations spends a lot of time looking at these implicit biases and encourages us to become aware of them, and to become aware of times when we are pushing others away from us or withdrawing from situations where we are surrounded by people we deem to be others. Without realizing it we have perpetuated racism through implicit bias and through stories of colorblindness. Studies show that our implicit bias is to see black people as larger and more threatening, and that we will be more likely to expect crime and violence from black people, even if we are well intentioned.

 

Seneca wrote that even the most self-sufficient man could not live without the society of man, but when that society thinks you are a criminal, threatens you, and takes control of your physical body, your existence can never be fulfilled. Coats throughout his book describes the way that black people have their future robbed from them because the society they depend on does not care about their success as much as their punishment and their restriction. None of us actively act to put black people down, to instill fear in the minds of black children, or to control the bodies of black people, but we still have organized ourselves and throughout history have disadvantaged black people in a way that limits the aid and acceptance that society provides. At the same time, we demand that we ourselves are judged on a merit basis and we view our own success as coming from entirely within. We do not see the way in which we rely on the society of man for our existence. Like someone riding a road bike, even with a wind to our back, we still feel wind in our face, making it seem as though we are being pushed back, despite the fact that a strong wind propels us forward. Recognizing and understanding our dependence on society and how our society pushes back against black people can help us understand the culture and attitudes of black people in America today.
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An Irrational Fear

Colin Wright explores our mind and what happens when we work to be fully conscious of our world in his book Considerations. He explores topics related to self-awareness, motivation, and focus in his writing, and his book becomes something like a field guide for fortifying our mind and thoughts for the challenges of life. In his book, he addresses our fear of the future and our fear of spending time working hard for uncertain results. He writes, “the fear of accidentally working too hard to get someplace we don’t want to be can be paralyzing, but it’s an irrational fear.” When we take steps to grow and improve, doors will open for us, and our hard work will land us in places we could never have expected.

 

Wright uses this quote in a section exploring our growth and our ever evolving future. It is not always clear what opportunities will be presented to us and how we will have a chance to grow or benefit from those opportunities. We often have a desire to place ourselves on a path where our hard work can be clearly recognized and rewarded, but this almost never happens. Being flexible and allowing our lives to pivot gives us a greater ability to navigate the shifting path in front us, and gives us an opportunity to apply our hard work to receive benefits in the future, even if we don’t know what they will be.

 

I have struggled to remember Wright’s philosophy, but it has become even more important for me now. I am returning to college and face a potentially very  foggy path. If I act out of fear and make decisions to move forward based on my fear, then I will never fully apply myself, and I will never prepare myself for the uncertain path ahead of me.  By recognizing the uncertainty and at the same time fully engaging myself in my efforts, then I can be sure that my hard work will create new avenues for me. Combining that hard work with flexibility and a willingness to shift direction will ensure that I arrive in a place where I am satisfied with what I do, even if it was not where I originally aimed.

About Being Mad

Marcus Aurelius in his philosophy of stoicism constantly made an effort to look beyond the surface and make deep considerations of people and events before he made any attempt to sort out what they meant. This practice allowed him to delay pressing judgement onto others and gave him the ability to think clearly about something before letting his opinion bias his thoughts.  Throughout his book Meditations, you see him apply this skill to many areas of life, giving us examples of how we can use deeper thought and the ability to control our impulsiveness in various relationships and situations. In the quote I wish to highlight today, Aurelius discusses our anger in situations where disputes may arise. He writes, “The dispute then, he said, is not about any common matter; but about being mad or not.”

 

This quote to me speaks about our often hidden decision in conversation and social situations to react to something by being offended and angry.

 

At a certain point in a discussion or debate we may recognize that our views conflict with those of another, and we have a choice of how to move forward. In our culture in the United States we do not do a good job of understanding how to meaningfully build conversation from differences of opinion, and we often default to the simple option, argumentative debate. When we begin to notice that our views do not match, something inside us triggers and we allow ourselves to become mad. We fail to be constructive in our discussion and allow our hot mind to push the conversation in a volatile direction. In terms of our discussion, we make the decision to become angry, and that decision derails the path of our conversation. At a certain point when this happens, we are no longer actually discussing the original point, but instead we have staked out our identify, fortified ourselves with rage, and shifted the discussion to something completely different: our moral superiority and right to be angry.

 

This reminds me of a quote from Aurelius that I previously wrote about on August 3rd, 2016:

 

“On a personal level, outrage makes us feel superior. By becoming indignant, we’re drawing a line in the sand and declaring ourselves to be on the right side of a given issue. We’re saying, ‘How horrible this situation is, and how capable am I of declaring right and wrong, and passing judgment on those involved!’”

 

We do not become angry with others or with situations because of the effect or impact they have on us, but rather, we become angry by our own choice. We use anger as a defense mechanism that barricades us on the side of righteousness and pierces through the shortcomings of others. Making the decision not to become angry at others allows us to look at people as rational human beings (meaning that they are making decisions based on their own perceived utility), and also allows us to remain humble as we constructively build our relationships and as we cognitively piece together the reality around us. Without developing this ability, we simply entrench our tribal nature, but in a way that is hidden from our consciousness, preventing ourselves from growing and being able to view the world from perspectives beyond our own.

 

As Colin Write wrote to start his book Considerations,

“Few of us take the time to consider.
     It’s not that we’re ‘inconsiderate’ in the sense that we’re rude or brash or one of the other myriad associations we’ve tacked on to the word over the years, but we are often ‘inconsiderate’ in the sense that we act while seeing the world from only one standpoint: our own.”

Interactions

Fred Kiel lays out his ideas and definitions of morality in his book Return on Character, his business book where he lays out the idea that in order to be truly successful in todays world companies must find leaders with strong moral character.  Much of his book focuses on relationships and the types of benefits that a leader and leadership team with strong moral character can bring to the relationships of everyone working within an organization, and the benefits that brings to a company as a whole. As part of this idea, Kiel dives into morality, and what it means to develop morality within a corporation or company today.

 

One of Kiel’s interpretations on morality relates to the way we see other people and interact with them, “Each of us constantly makes decisions about how to interact with other people, and each of those decisions has the potential to either harm or enhance the other person’s well-being.” This is a simple idea about how we can interpret and see the world and Kiel explains that what we are more moral when our actions help the well-being of others, and we are immoral when our behaviors detract from the well-being of others. This is a good starting point for describing the importance of character in relationships and business, because on an individual level it is easy to asses whether or not we are acting with the motivation of helping ourselves at the expense of others, or if we are acting in a way that is meant to help everyone as much as ourselves.

 

I recently listened to a podcast from the Transistor Podcast from PRX in which they discussed Theory of Mind which states that we are constantly interpreting what others are thinking and feeling, and we are able to recognize that others outside of ourselves have their own emotions and thoughts about any given situation.  I think that Kiel would argue that it is important for us to work on our Theory of Mind to build our ability to recognize the thoughts and feelings of others so that we can have better interactions with those around us.  The idea laid out by both the Transistor podcast and by Fred Kiel aligns with Colin Wright’s ideas presented in his book Considerations. In Considerations Wright posits the idea that we move through the world without being present in the moment as much as we should be, and he writes that we do not take the time to truly be considerate of other people, our good fortune, and of the world around us which shapes our interactions with people and our environment.  By being aware of our Theory of Mind and working to be more considerate of those around us, we can improve our character.  With our improved character and better relationships and interactions  we can begin to be a more rewarding person to be around, and in a business sense, our character generates a return that can be felt and measured within a company.

Creating Value Along an Unpredictable Path

Colin Wright in his book Considerations shares a bit of excellent advice for those of us who are not 100% clear on our goals.  He states,

 

“Focusing on producing value in everything you do serves as consistency when all other options in the entire world are open to you. You can head in any direction, and pursue any future you want, and though you may pivot many times between ‘here’ and ‘there’, maintaining a focus on value will ensure that no wrong turn is wasted time, and no goal is so nebulous that it’s completely untethered.”

 

This quote really speaks to me because it highlights our unclear paths, gears us toward success with the understanding that we may not have immediate success or always make decisions which helps us reach the success we desire.  What Write focuses on is changing our mindset by focusing on ways in which we can produce value for the world and ourselves.

 

Often times I find myself frustrated because I am not sure exactly what path I want to take in life. Sometimes it seems as though I do not have a clear direction and goal in my career, and it is hard for me to envision success and a landing point for success.  What Wright’s quote shows is that we do not have to have a tangible goal if we are 100% focused on our own growth and providing value to the world. If we focus on value then our efforts will be meaningful and we will develop new connections, learn more about ourselves, and begin to see opportunities for us to develop our own spot in the universe.

 

The quote also shows that success does not have to be immediate for us. It has often been written and repeated that millennials are too entitled and that my generation does not expect to work for their goals, but rather that they expect to be handed a trophy and applauded without putting in years of effort and work. Wright’s quote is a bit of advice that can help combat the pressures and thoughts  that millennials have harbored to create the attitudes of entitlement and the expectations of quick success. Wright shows that we do not have to be successful immediately and he explains that our successes will truly only arise once we have created a habit of focusing on providing value to others. This value production will lead to real, tangible growth for the individuals, and it will prepare us for opportunities to become truly successful. It will not be overnight, but overtime all of our small victories and all of the value we send into the world will build up to create a platform of success for us.

How Being Outraged Can Boost Our Self-esteem

Throughout his book Considerations, author Colin Wright reflects ideas that align with stoicism, turning Considerations into a collection of essays on varying topics to slightly mirror Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.  A common theme between the two works is the focus on ideas of self awareness, self-control, and accepting that you do not understand everyone’s perspectives and thoughts.  Commenting on ideas of self-awareness and self-control, Wright introduces an interesting idea about the way we think during times of passionate anger,

 

“On a personal level, outrage makes us feel superior.  By becoming indignant, we’re drawing a line in the sand and declaring ourselves to be on the right side of a given issue.  We’re saying, “How horrible this situation is, and how capable I am of declaring right and wrong, and passing judgment on those involved!””

 

Wright continues to explain that this type of outrage is nothing more than a self-esteem boost for ourselves because it raises us along a slope of moral righteousness from which we are able to display and pronounce our superiority over those in the “wrong” camp. Our ranting and explosive attitudes release energy and captivate the attention of others, giving us an additional boost by holding people’s attention.  As this continues, being right or wrong does not matter, and we simply become outraged on moral issues so that we can continue to hold people’s attention and flatter ourselves. The more people pay attention to an outraged individual, whether they agree with them or just want to see someone exploding their beliefs, the more that individual feels supported. We reinforce our ideas and beliefs and risk polarizing ourselves through our thought process by creating an identity for ourselves that is holy and pure, while demonizing those with whom we disagree and view as being wrong.

 

I think that both Aurelius and Wright would argue that it is better to turn inside ourselves and reflect on that which drives us irate before making a public display of our feelings. By better understanding whatever it is, we can better react to it, and perhaps understand other perspectives surrounding that which angered us. Aurelius would certainly argue that nothing should push an individual to the point of outrage, since it is likely outside our control and influence, and since the thing itself likely does not make us any worse off, but rather our reactions to that thing makes us angry. Both authors would also argue that it is important to be able to understand why others think or behave in a way to us that seems completely backward and wrong.  When we can focus and explore the behaviors and thoughts of others from their perspective we are able to grow as individuals and better connect with them.  By connecting and sharing perspectives we are able to grow as individuals and as groups as opposed to creating divides within society that entrench us behind a personal moral facade of correctness.

Monotasking and Focus

A big part of author Colin Wright’s lifestyle is his minimalistic approach to life.  Wright travels across the world writing from wherever he finds himself living, and he typically does not settle in one place for more than a year or so at a time.  Without a truly permanent residence he has adopted a minimalist lifestyle, which he believes helps him focus.  In his book Considerations Wright addresses focus with a short essay about what focus is, what leads to greater focus, what distracts from focus, and how we benefit from greater focus.

 

Wright leads off with an explanation of minimalism expressing his ideas behind a life with less. Living with fewer things to worry about gives him more time and energy to focus on things he finds interesting as opposed to working on managing ‘things’.  He continues with his dialog on focus to explain that another type of minimalism can be very helpful for us on a daily basis,

 

“Focus can be about mono tasking: doing one thing at a time, and allowing your brain to process everything about what’s happening with that one thing.  Conversations become richer, work is easier, ideas present themselves with greater frequency and ease. This type of focus is momentary, but incredibly effective.”

 

I think  that we all realize that our multitasking has negative effects on our output, but we defend multitasking by explaining how busy we are and by creating excuses about the timelines and urgency of our products, phone calls, emails, and reports.  A constant pressure to accomplish more in less time forces us to push toward greater productivity, and drives us to perform multiple processes at the same time.  What Wright’s quote shows is that everything about our work becomes more robust when we can monotask and focus on a single thing.  To tie in with Paul Jun’s writing about focus, we can think of focus as a flashlight. If our flashlight of focus is shining at just one thing, then the beam of light directed in one direction will be very strong. But if we use mirror’s to split the beam to two things, the amount of light illuminating either thing will be lessened.  As we subsequently split the beams with more mirrors, we reach a point where the things we focus on become indiscernible because our focus is too fractured and weak.

 

The other aspect of Wright’s considerations about focus that I am drawn to is the way he explains on the rewards of monotasking and minimalism without attacking the person who is multitasking.  As a millennial I heard all the negative studies and stories about multitasking  and it’s negative effects on my brain.  The news stories and research presented in class always felt like a negative attack against my generation, and in many ways felt like a challenge for me and my peers to continue multitasking to prove the scientific community and the community of skeptic teachers wrong. Wright in his writing simply explains the peace of mind and the areas of life that a single focus strengthen. This is a much more effective way to invite the individual in to a life of monotasking and minimalism.