Many of us are worried that the election results will threaten our economy, lives, democracy, and planet. Regardless of the outcomes, we need to make a difficult, but crucial shift from being a competitive to a cooperative society. Music can help with this in three ways:
- Turning trauma into therapy. Competition is traumatizing because it involves attacks – ranging from mildly insulting to fatal. Unfortunately, many of us respond to our own trauma by traumatizing others. What we need instead is therapy – any activity that allows us to process and heal from our pain. I once found (competitive) music traumatic, but now recognize that musical practice and playing can be incredible forms of therapy. We need to engage in these and other therapeutic activities, such as writing, art, crafting, movement, etc., individually and in groups.
- Turning finding problems to finding solutions. In competitive society, we’re very good at finding problems (often in the form of personal attacks) but usually very bad at finding solutions. Obviously, you need to identify the problem before you can figure out solutions, but many people fail to realize you need both. Musical practice and performance provide a low-stakes setting to develop this skill. We’re facing enormous problems with seemingly no solutions. We have to develop these skills and music – along with many other fields – provides a good training ground.
- Turning limited resources into mutual aid. One of main justifications for competition is that there are only so many resources (such as work, money, and food) to go around. This doesn’t need to be the case – we can work together to find ways to help each other out. We need to learn to live more simply and stop obsessing over wealth and status, but we mainly need to learn how to work cooperatively – not competitively. Again, music – along with other settings – can help us learn how to do this.
For most musicians, competition is an essential part of music. We fear throwing out the baby (music) with the bathwater (competition). Unfortunately, that bath water is incredibly toxic and needs to be thrown out now.
Like many, I’m still trying to process what’s happening. But I need to be proactive. In addition to sharing this with others, I ask that folks offer suggestions. How do we work together with writers, artists, activists, organizations, vulnerable populations, etc.? How do we build connections between local and national movements? How do we move beyond competition when it’s so prevalent in music?
Lately, my motto has been, “Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.” If it’s the former, we can still make the world a happier, healthier place. If it’s the latter, we at least address the problem head-on. Either way – stay safe and healthy, be there for one another, and always remind yourself about the awesome power of music.