A few weeks ago, I wrote about how we need to step up and get involved when we see injustices happen. I wrote (pretty compellingly, I’m sure you’ll agree) that we need to use our voices and make some noise, rather than staying quiet and letting bad situations continue. But what happens when you make a noise and it falls on deaf ears? That guy at work is still a misogynist no matter how many feminist rants you go on. Your friend won’t reduce her plastic even after you made her watch Blue Planet. People don’t see things your way no matter how many brilliantly-written blogs you post (OK that might just be one for me…) But what’s the point of trying to change someone’s mind, when they seem so set in their ways?
I’ve never been a fan of a political song. I can completely see why they exist: a musician develops a passion for an issue, and they’re moved to do something using the gifts and platform that they have. Nothing wrong with that, arguably I write these blogs every week to do the same thing. But what annoys me is the underlying hubris of the singer-songwriter thinking they’re going to solve global warming or racism or homelessness in one song. Never mind the nuances of any given political situation that might make it difficult to squeeze into a tight three minutes and a rigid rhyme scheme, if you’ve got a guitar and a catchy hook you can, apparently, change the world.
Except you can’t change the world in one song (especially as there have been some absolute corkers of terrible political songs. Brad Paisely and LL Cool J teaming up for “Accidental Racist” is, yes, as brilliantly awful as it sounds). But therein lies our frustration. We think we can save humanity in one fell swoop. We think we can change someone else’s entire perspective with one conversation, one perfect one-liner, and then we get all-the-more annoyed with that person when they still vote for UKIP or buy non-fairtrade teabags. Come ON guys, we TALKED about this. Don’t tell me I have to repeat myself? If at first we don’t succeed…well…they should have listened the first time.
But if you’ve ever tried to change anything in your own life, you know it doesn’t happen all at once. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, learn a language, eat less meat or whatever, you only succeed when you take it one step at a time. Yes, sometimes you might have a big epiphany moment and decide to chart a new course, but that doesn’t mean you become a whole new person overnight or don’t ever slip off-track. The opinions you have now, however righteous and “correct” they may be, did not pop into your head fully-formed. They developed over a series of moments and experiences and conversations. No one rushed in at you with a full and established way of thinking that changed you forever. Instead, you picked up on one small, new idea that you could get your head around, which then expanded to include another idea, and another, until your experience of a particular situation or issue was the deeper, richer, more nuanced version that it is today.
Because that’s how change happens on a larger scale. It’s not one person writing a song and saving the world; it’s a tapestry of different people’s efforts that God weaves together until it alters the wider picture. It’s every conversation and campaign and piece of art that contributes its own tile to the mosaic of the issue. When you look back on the progression of human history, when you read the Bible and see the changes made in people’s lives throughout those stories, more often than not those changes are incremental. Yes, you have individuals like Paul having their big “road to Damascus” conversions, but attitudes and ideas at large progress in a much slower way. Society nudges a step forward, and then another step, and tiptoes forward to enlightenment.
One recent political song that I actually liked was Childish Gambino’s “This is America”. I was so moved by it that I watched it four times (which is White Girl speak for “See? I’m totally not racist”). But a lot of the success of “This is America” is down to the music video, because it reaches out to include way more than just Childish Gambino’s words (the song itself actually has a very limited number of lyrics). References in the video include the book of Revelation, Jim Crow, the Trayvon Martin shooting, the Charleston church massacre, the impact of social media and more. Childish Gambino is not only referencing things that his song talks about; he’s acknowledging he can’t change the world on the strength of one song alone, he’s just adding his thread to the tapestry.
I realise that Childish Gambino hasn’t suddenly ended institutional racism. No one tuned into him performing on Saturday Night Live and thought, “Hey, I’m not racist anymore!” But when you add that music video to the rising popularity of movies such as Get Out and Black Panther, TV shows like Dear White People and the #blacklivesmatter campaign, you can see a wider conversation beginning to emerge about race and the issues affecting black people, and just seeing better representation of people of colour. Each piece is individually thought-provoking and creative and persuasive, but true change only happens – both in people’s minds and in wider, political terms – when those pieces come together to form the final puzzle.
The other day a group of us were having a fairly in-depth debate about feminism, and I kept arguing and arguing these finer, detailed points and getting more and more frustrated, until my cousin Naomi stopped and said, “Can we just establish what feminism means?” She took it right back to basics, right back to square one, and when she did that she ended up getting everyone to agree that they were all, indeed, feminists. And then we stopped there. That was enough for one day, and going any further probably would have ruined it. Everyone had made one small step, but boy was it an important one.
So back to you and your personal, frustrating crusade. If there’s one thing I’m beginning to learn about changing people’s opinions it’s this: go gently. Remember that these are issues and injustices you’ve been tackling and learning about for years, and you’re not going to persuade someone right up to your full point of view in one conversation (and, as a side note, you probably don’t have all the answers either). Charging in with your full list of demands for change means the other person will just screw up the list, but tackling each thing on that list, one at a time, means that you’ll eventually get a lot further in changing that person’s mind. And you don’t know who or what else is in that person’s life also contributing to this conversation, also adding threads to the tapestry, also making their small steps for change. One person may not be able to change the world with one song, but when you put all those voices together, it makes for one hell of a compilation album.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti