Monday, October 11, 2010

The Importance of Empathy

I just finished watching Bono's acceptance speech for an award he received in 2005, honoring his work in Africa. In the video, he describes how his organization, One, saves lives and improves the quality of life for many Africans. It's not that he's the only celebrity with a cause, or the only activist bringing light and aid to an unfathomable suffering that constitutes the daily lives of many Africans, but I think it's relevant that he is also a celebrated musician.

Being a musician inherently means that I have to know that other people experience the same things I do. Empathy, in many ways, is what we do as musicians. We trust that like we experience joy, others also experience joy, pain, humiliation, gratitude, despair, redemption... That is why I can write a song about my love, and it is somehow relevant to your life too- because we have the shared experience of love, and also of loosing love. Music is just one way that we communicate these shared experiences to each other. We don't necessarily experience life in the same way, but we experience the same fundamental things- birth, death, hunger, thirst love, pain... and these experiences form a common language between us.

Whether you're writing music, performing music, listening to music- what is, and often in the background, the fundamental truth of music, is that we, as human beings, are all connected. We can think, or believe that we're all connected, but music makes us know it. Being aware of this connection, and having empathy, also keeps our music relevant. It makes what we feel, and the way we communicate it, useful for other people too. It's because we want to find answers to our own questions that we find solutions we all share. It's because we want to ease another person's suffering that we ease our own. It's also that because we can imagine how another person feel that music exists. That if the tempo is faster, someone else's pulse quickens. That if I rest, you experience my silence. Music is only a ship that sails on the vast expanse of what we all have in common. Our empathy is the harbor.

Knowing that we are all connected, that we are all deeply important to each other, shines the light on the core of our music, our humanity. Expanding our empathy (in Bono's case to Africa) not only makes us better musicians, but also better people- to each other, but mostly to ourselves.

Best in your music,