On this blog I usually talk a lot about things that are happening in the world and how I feel about them. I don’t often talk about what I’m thinking about independent of the news of the day. But several things I’ve been undertaking have coalesced recently into one moment that I wanted to share, because it has everything to do with what I normally talk about here.
(Note: Bear with me, this might be a post of Enlightened Savage length proportions.)
As part of my Leadership Calgary course I’m currently reading a book called “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts”. It’s an eye-opener in every sense of the word. The main premise of the book revolves around “cognitive dissonance”; which, put simply, is the process individuals undertake after receiving information that is contradictory to their belief system. It raises a VERY important point: what do you do when you encounter something that is counter-intuitive to everything you’ve learned to be vitally important from your mother/friends/employer/church/political party/etc. In short it is self-justification, something we all do each and every single day.The examples the book gives ranges from how we convince ourselves the new gadget we just bought is better than every gadget out there and everyone is a fool for not owning the same one; to how our political leaders find themselves in trouble from time to time and simply cannot admit they made a mistake only to find themselves further down the rabbit hole.
I highly recommend the book to everyone. It certainly made me rethink a lot of my rationale for decision-making and made me appreciate the “other guy’s” point even more.
Those who read this blog regularly know that my main point is often “cut through the crap and get to the root of the problem” or “don’t just blindly follow, ask questions”. I consider myself post-partisan and, not being a member of any political party, more able to rise above the majority of the fray.
On Monday I suddenly found myself applying some of the “seek proof” ideology from the book to something Lianne (@prairies) mentioned on Twitter. We had a great short conversation about children and violence and whether witnessing violence causes them to be more violent. The outcome of the conversation doesn’t matter in this context, but it let me leave work at the end of the day with my mind just a little more open (as I hope it did for her too).
The night before, on Sunday, I was immersed in Bob Edwards quotes at a script writing session for Alberta Theatre Projects annual Bob Edwards Award Luncheon. (For those unfamiliar with Bob Edwards he was the founder of the Calgary Eye-Opener in the 1900s. He poked fun at Calgary and Alberta politicians with a goal to open readers’ eyes to the day’s issues. Basically he was the Jon Stewart of his day. And yes, he was HI-LAR-E-US.) At this particular script writing session we – I’m happy to be working with comedian Cory Mack – were focused on writing questions for a panel discussion featuring Peter C. Newman, Catherine Ford, Hugh Dempsey, Jane Urquhart and Lise Bissonnette; all former recipients of the award for their “shit-disturber” writing capabilities.
The questions were the kind you might expect me to be interested: why is the media important, who in politics might you like to call out, why don’t more writers rock the boat, etc. (You’ll have to attend the luncheon on November 2 to hear the final questions and their answers.) As you can imagine, having this kind of conversation with other people rather than just my computer screen got my brain moving a little bit more.
Back to Monday night: as I get off the bus on my way home a song that I haven’t thought about in almost 10 years comes on my iPod. When Ani DiFranco’s “Little Plastic Castle” came out in 1998 I bought it right away. I was in an Ani frame of mind back then: I felt connected to her frantic guitar playing and thoughtful lyrics. As a result one song stuck out for me even back then: “Fuel”. I played it over and over again and it slowly became my favourite on the album. It was this song that came on my iPod on Monday night and everything I’d experienced in the past few days started started coming together. It all started clicking for me.
Before I explain further, I suggest you play the music here and read along with the lyrics. (I’ve posed them below the video.) It probably won’t affect you in the same way it does me, but you’ll get the idea.
They were digging a new foundation in Manhattan
And they discovered a slave cemetery there
May their souls rest easy now that lynching is frowned upon
And we’ve moved on to the electric chair
And I wonder who’s gonna be president
Tweedle Dumb or Tweedle Dumber?
And who’s gonna have the big
Blockbuster box office
How ’bout we put up a wall
Between the houses and the highway
And then you can go your way
And I can go my way
Except all the radios agree with all the TV’s
And all the magazines agree with all the radios
And I keep hearing that same damn song
Everywhere I go
Maybe I should put a bucket over my head
And a marshmallow in each ear
And stumble around for another dumb numb week
For another hum drum hit song to appear
People used to make records
As in a record of an event
The event of people
Playing music in a room
Now everything is cross-marketing
It’s about sunglasses and shoes
Or guns and drugs
We got it rehashed
We got it half-assed
We’re digging up all the graves
And we’re spitting on the past
And we can choose between the colors
Of the lipstick on the whores
Cuz we know the difference
Between the font of twenty percent more
And the font of teriyaki
You tell me
How does that make you feel?
You tell me what’s real
And they say that alcoholics are always alcoholics
Even when they’re dry as my lips for years
Even when they’re stranded on a small desert island
With no place in two thousand miles to buy beer
And I wonder is he different
Is he different
Has he changed
What he’s about
Or is he just a liar
With nothing to lie about
Am I headed for the same brick wall
Is there anything I can do
About anything at all
Except go back to that corner in Manhattan
And dig deeper
Dig deeper this time
Down beneath the impossible pain of our history
Beneath unknown bones
Beneath the bedrock of the mystery
Beneath the sewage system and the path train
Beneath the cobblestones and the water main
Beneath the traffic of friendships and street deals
Beneath the screeching of kamikaze cab wheels
Beneath everything I can think of to think about
Beneath it all
Beneath all get out
Beneath the good and the kind and the stupid and the cruel
There’s a fire that’s just waiting for fuel
I bolded the sections that strike me the most.
In 1998 it was the phrase “we know the difference between the font of twenty percent more and the font of teriyaki”. It amazed me then that, yes indeed, we can recognize the font that indicates a store “SALE” and the kind you would use at a Chinese food restaurant. And you would react poorly if a proprietor used the opposite one for their shop.
I guess this is where it all comes to for me: so much of what we do, or see, or pay our attention to is only scratching the surface. There is always more story than you could possibly know. Yet we are so quick to assume we know the ins and the outs of any given event. (You just have to read the comments on any Globe and Mail or CBC.ca article to realize how quick people are to judge.)
So how do we combat this? How do we, the average person, ensure we don’t leap to any false conclusions? How do we stop ourselves from buying into the convenient to understand, watered down, bite-sized bullshit politicians and media have little choice but to feed us?
The answer is the entire last verse of the song.
Beneath it all there is a fire just waiting for fuel. I am a fire waiting for fuel. And I know you are too.
And there is plenty of fuel out there; we just need to dig deeper into every story to find it. Question everything. Never discourage someone from asking “why?”. Never stop learning and approach everything with an open mind. Don’t let anyone stand in your way. If we do this we can pry open any issue. And that is something we sorely need more of in our politics.