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In the first segment of this series, we analyzed the effects of melody on the human body, mind, and spirit. In the second segment, we focused on how the messaging portrayed through song lyrics can influence our behavior, even in subtle ways. We learned that we’re not as mentally strong as we think we are, but are in fact greatly vulnerable to the messages in lyrics. This third, final installment will explore the shared role and responsibility of conscious music creators and consumers.
In our last segment, we learned about research by professor P. Cougar Hall, who fears that more and more teens are confusing the lyrics of popular music with social norms. However, Hall doesn’t suggest parents discourage music at home, nor does he promote restrictions or encourage censorship. Rather, he suggests we engage in conversation with young people, in the hopes of stimulating action and awareness.
After all, these young people are our future leaders, decision makers, industry professionals, creators, and consumers.
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In a letter addressed to “the Baha’i youth in every land,” the Universal House of Justice wrote:
Let Baha’i youth, therefore, consider the best ways in which they can use and develop their native abilities for the service of mankind and the Cause of God, whether this be as farmers, teachers, doctors, artisans, musicians or any one of the multitude of livelihoods that are open to them. – The Universal House of Justice, 10 June 1966.
Multiple studies performed by Tobias Greitemeyer and his colleagues, have found that the most effective songs contain lyrics that advocate kindness and helpfulness, and that positive messages in songs can make people less prejudiced and fearful of those who are different than them. In another experiment conducted by researchers Ritter and Ferguson, they found that when participants listened to music labeled “happy,” their creativity increased. Music with clean, profound messaging can connect people to their emotions and facilitate emotional healing; not only happy music but even sad tunes can release feelings of pleasure and comfort. Singing and playing musical instruments have even more profound effects on the human mind and body. Paul Zak’s research found that playing music with others develops trust, which releases a neurochemical called oxytocin, which is linked to moral behaviors, such as being generous or sacrificing to help a stranger.
As we aspire to become more actively engaged in the music we make and listen to, we may benefit from considering and putting into action some relevant insights and inspiration from the Baha’i teachings, such as the following ideas offered by the Universal House of Justice:
New elements of culture will evolve over time as people hailing from every human group, inspired by the Revelation of Baha’u’llah, give expression to patterns of thought and action engendered by His teachings, in part through artistic and literary works… We long to see, for instance, the emergence of captivating songs from every part of the world, in every language, that will impress upon the consciousness of the young the profound concepts enshrined in the Baha’i teachings. Yet such an efflorescence of creative thought will fail to materialize, should the friends fall, however inadvertently, into patterns prevalent in the world that give licence to those with financial resources to impose their cultural perspective on others, inundating them with materials and products aggressively promoted. Further, every effort should be made to protect spiritual education from the perils of commercialization. – The Universal House of Justice, to all National Spiritual Assemblies, December 2011.
I’m by no means suggesting that everyone should only listen to folk, soul, or religious music, or that we should stop listening to hip-hop, pop, or EDM (electronic dance music). The diverse styles and genres of music have beautifully evolved to where they are now, and they have advanced communities and the music industry over time, in many positive and beneficial ways. So I want to stress that the point of this article is not to discourage any genres or types of music, but to encourage vigilance about the negative social forces expressed in the messages of many songs, and to nurture an attitude that empowers us to change the cultural trends and forces which give rise to such music.
My intention is also to promote our capacity to consciously choose to listen to music with positive lyrics and content. This will not only improve our thoughts and actions but will also elevate the collective spaces and environments we inhabit. Choosing to create and listen to positive music is one way we can beneficially influence our homes, workplaces, and communities.
Related to this point, the Universal House of Justice wrote:
The standard of dignity and reverence set by the beloved Guardian should always be upheld, particularly in musical and dramatic items… This does not mean that activities of the youth, for example, should be stultified; one can be exuberant without being irreverent or undermining the dignity of the Cause. – The Universal House of Justice, 2 July 1967, Wellspring of Guidance, p. 118.
As we have learned in this three-part series, our minds, bodies and souls are extremely vulnerable to the positive and negative influences of music. Though some of us may be tempted to try to protect ourselves by avoiding certain genres and clinging to specific kinds of music, unless we live like hermits, we can’t avoid the impact of mainstream music’s language and imagery on our thoughts and behaviors.
The teachings of the Baha’i Faith offer rich, myriad reminders of the inherent nobility of every human being and the high spiritual standards to which we should aspire. I believe we humans can draw on the power of these teachings and principles—regardless of our beliefs or background—and through our dialogue, example, and resolute action, we can impact and improve an industry that is currently largely reflecting the baser, more negative aspects of the society around us.
I believe there is hope—that we can change not only the music we hear, but also the social forces and assumptions that give rise to music. On that note, I’d like to close with some inspiring words written by the Universal House of Justice:
The beloved Guardian made it clear that the flowering of the arts which is the result of a divine revelation comes only after a number of centuries. The Baha’i Faith offers the world the complete rebuilding of human society—a rebuilding of such far-reaching effect that it has been looked forward to in all the revelations of the past and has been called the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. The new architecture to which this revelation will give birth will blossom many generations hence. We are now merely at the beginning of this great process. – letter to an individual, July 1974, published in The Importance of the Arts in Promoting the Faith.
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