Music as Song, as Story

Children Sing the Future World: How we create the world’s song with song By Barbara Kaufmann A song is a story A song is story set to music. Imagine the whole world is a choir. Imagine that as each member of that choir adds their unique voice and that those voices, singing in concert, sing the world … Continued

Children Sing the Future World: How we create the world’s song with song

By Barbara Kaufmann

A song is a story

A song is story set to music. Imagine the whole world is a choir. Imagine that as each member of that choir adds their unique voice and that those voices, singing in concert, sing the world into being. That is a metaphor for the truth of how the world is created. They say that the future is in the hands of tomorrow’s leaders—that would be today’s children. How do you think children will treat their fellow humans in the future? How will they treat their world? What song will the future choir sing?

The narrative song that sings the world and determines its direction creates what kind of world it will be—human friendly or not. The song comes out of the minds of today’s children. The future world and its song, arises from what today’s children sing together—that forms, collectively, the future’s anthem. How do we create a better world, a more humane future and reality? It begins with creating a song of compassion or humane narrative for our children—today. Where do children learn their narrative or “story” or the song that sings the world into being? They listen to the adults around them. What song are we singing?

Children are tender beings sensitive to words. That’s not a new story. The chant “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a myth. Human history holds many stories where humans have used sound and language to incite violence or inflict harm. There is a modern story, that has now become part of that the human narrative on the planet—bullying. The sheer magnitude of bullying and the increasing size of its audience when technology is used to launch words and weapons is staggering. Assaults with sometimes deadly weapons—words—hurt. Deeply.

Some scientists theorize that the Universe began with sound—the big bang. They trace creation back to a single explosion of sound—a creation song. Many indigenous, many tribes and traditions, and ancient cultures incorporate creation myths that include sound or song in their creation theologies. Creation by “the word” or “song” is ultimately—sound. Sonics (sound) can be harnessed for healing or for harm. ELF waves or low frequency sound, for example, can harm marine life; yet ultrasound can help a human body heal. Sound in the form of music and using words sculpted into lyrics, music and song is a musical narrative that can be harnessed to soothe and heal hearts that lack hope or are hurting and broken.

Twenty years from now you may not remember what was said in a lecture, school assembly, or speech that you attended, but you’ll remember the tune and the lyrics of a popular song, an anthem, an opera or musical, and you’ll remember the mindset, thoughts and feelings of that musical interlude in your life. In fact, hearing it again will transport you right back there—to that time and those feelings.

Words and Their Power

Words harm on so many levels: How many of us can remember the impact of a staccato scolding by our mothers, and the shame that arose in the body? Do you remember how words felt  like physical blows in a breakup with your first love and how your heart felt as if it might burst from the sheer magnitude of the pain in your chest? That too, is archived in our library of experience. The body feels the words.

That library holds all the feelings that we felt from friends, family and even strangers who, with a few words, reduced us to less than human and robbed us instantly of our humanity. Words used as weapons feel like death because the greatest fear that lives in the human psyche is banishment. Words can banish someone from the human tribe.

“Banishment” or sending someone away into isolation was used in ancient times to marginalize and punish by separating someone from everything that provided security and safety. Banishment strips someone of their dignity, identity, sense of belonging and pushes them “out in the cold” or gives them the “cold shoulder.” Historically, tribal banishment meant certain death. Without her tribe and the solidarity and safety it provided, a human could not survive in the wild and the cold. The longing to belong and be embraced by one’s “tribe” is deeply embedded in human DNA. Yes, words can leave people “cold” and marginalize or push them away making them “outsiders.”

Words used as violence are never invited nor welcomed by their targets; they wound people deeply and permanently. That is the definition of bullying “unwanted and unwelcome wounding or harm.” And quite often wounded people wound other people and hurt people hurt people. We saw how marginalized, banished and deeply wounded youth lashed out and lashed back at Columbine. Words thrown around thoughtlessly and casually come from people who have temporarily forgotten humanity—theirs and others’. We know that the “mean girl” syndrome kills.

Words slicing at humans take chunks of humanity, carve up people’s dignity and sovereignty, and when used publicly, to humiliate, dehumanize or make humans into caricatures, we forget that they dismember real people. That is real violence. Technology amplifies that harm especially when social media offers anyone the opportunity to write and publish anything on the web—whether or not it’s truth. The Internet can become a minefield and nobody should have to walk through a minefield in their own space—whether cyber or not.

Some kids fare better than others when bullied by vicious gossip. Some have parents who take an interest in their child; some kids have parents who work or have other obligations that infringe on their time together; still other kids have parents who are absent, gone, indifferent, ill, addicted, hostile or just plain abusive. Words can push an already vulnerable child over the edge.

Dehumanizing (de-valuing humans) makes it easier to inflict violence, on self, on others and on the planet. The current narrative on this planet is not humane and as a result, the planet is in peril. Dehumanizing values resources and profit over humans and commerce over the planet. Peace does begin with me. So does solidarity. So does the planet’s survival and the survival of its species. So does humanity’s arc of evolution.

The culture has become so desensitized to the sophistication of bullying, that bullying is hardly recognized and is treated like a cultural rite of passage  instead of a crime against humanity. It’s not a rite of passage—it is a crime against humanity. Against the humanity of all involved and all downwind of it. The trauma inflicted by bullying affects not just those bullied, but those who bully and those who watch. It erodes the dignity of everybody and poisons the narrative for all of us because it devolves the human race. It slows human progress toward an enlightened society that humanely respects and embraces all its members. It interrupts human evolution; it delays the arrival of a better world. It poisons the choir and the song.

Words have infinite power. That power can be harnessed to uplift and heal and that healing is welcomed in a time of vulnerability, when suffering deeply wounds a soul. They can be used to help us navigate and even heal from life’s challenges. The flow of a life is marked by words. When a soul is aching, words can soothe; when a mind is troubled, words can ease the pain. It feels better to everyone—the one using words, the one receiving them and to any witnesses, to use words that uplift and validate the human condition. Words can cross a continent, travel to the stars, start a war, kill a spirit or end a life. They can also describe a hero, create peace, design a future, save a life and make the world a better place. Sometimes words inform and heal through sound and—song.

The Soundtrack of Your Life

Life’s most meaningful moments are very often punctuated by music that forms the soundtrack of our lives. Music marks a milestone, becomes a benchmark, creates a spectrum that arcs our lives. We all have our unique song inside that tells who we have become and who we are being on the planet. We are all part of a human family and our individual actions contribute to the humanity of the whole. We are in the midst of a wake-up call in this new millennium as we, once again, answer an open question on this planet: “Is humanity worth saving?” The last time we were asked to ponder that question, we almost nuked the planet and wiped our humanity. It started with words and almost devolved into nuclear war and nuclear winter. The power of words should not be underestimated.

Words and Stewardship

Part of being a shining human is to recognize our own gifts and the gifts of other beings on the planet. Part of our mission here is to partake responsibly, the gifts of a planet that supports us and sustains life, and to understand we make a contribution and to take it seriously. Chief Seattle said “what we do to each other, we do to ourselves and what we do to ourselves we do to the planet.”

Our stewardship and personal legacy requires some self-reflection that asks at the end of each day: What kind of person am I being? What did I contribute to moving humanity forward? What did I do to stall evolution? What did I build today? Am I helping or hindering evolution? Are my life and actions a gift to the world? Do they make it better or make it bitter? What can I do better to respect me and my fellow humans? Every day you are creating your legacy. Your legacy is what people will remember about you and when you are gone and what they will remember you for.

In a musical metaphor: There is internal music in every human being that wants to come out. Everybody has inner music that wants to live. That music is personal but it belongs to the world too. Sharing one’s music with the world forms the blended orchestra that plays the world’s symphony. Bullying silences the music and the gift it brings to the world. When someone’s inner music goes silent or dies inside them, the world is deprived of its best music. If the music inside goes silent, the world goes silent. We are that world. How will you sing the world? What is your song?

Discussion Questions

  1. What impact has music had on your life? Do you have a favorite: Song? Piece of music? Contemporary artist? Pop Singer? Pop song? In small groups, discuss the kinds of music in your life. Talk about the impact of music on your life.
  2. Imagine that the “music within” or “the song inside you” is your legacy and the gift that you, as an individual, bring to the planet. Sense that it’s your unique contribution to humanity. What would be the title of your best song? Optional assignment: write your song and/or perform your song.
  3. What do you think is meant by “don’t let your song die inside you?” Do you believe you have a “song?” Do you think everybody does? Why or why not?
  4. Can you think of other music metaphors to describe life and experience?
  5. Create a timeline from your birth until now and place songs that you remember that became important along that line. Create the soundtrack of your life.

Violeta Parra (Chilean)

Back to Learning

Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion