Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

White Noise of Freedom

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

This week’s Free Ride* muses on some lyrics from Ed Kowalczyk, former front man of the 90s band Live. The Talking Heads-influenced Kowalczyk, who turns 40 today, is another of the many artists who are convincing me that the 90s was a real Renaissance decade for rock music. While not in the same league as the mid-60s to mid-70s era, the 90s really were a fertile field for the creative juices to flow, after the cultural wasteland of the 80s (with exceptions, of course). Anyway, back to Live and Ed Kowalczyck. Before they had their unfortunate break-up, they recorded several albums, most notably the ’95 modern rock chart-topper Throwing Copper, produced by Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads. Of all the singles released from this project, my favorite is White Discussion, a commentary on the white noise that passed for the uncivil political discourse that marked the 90s and has continued devolving into our current climate of revolting reviling and ranting that pollutes airwaves and social media networks and minds.

The song begins with a word on freedom, and sets the tone for the irony of living in a land that extols the banner of liberty, but whose free exercise of speech has become a high decibel disenchanting discourse.

I talk of freedom
you talk of the flag
I talk of revolution
you’d much rather brag
and as the decibels of this
disenchanting discourse
continue to dampen the day

and as the final sunset rolls
behind the earth
and the clock is finally dead
I’ll look at you, you’ll look at me
and we’ll cry a lot
but this will be what we said
this will be what we said

Look where all this talking got us, baby.

Sometimes it is easy to fall into this kind of cynicism when you’re engaged in circular conversations that pick up velocity without getting anywhere. It reminds me of an insight a communications professor once had, that the words discussion and percussion have the same root – cutere – which means to strike, which is why “discussion” (as opposed to “dialogue” which the professor promoted) will inevitably feel like a clash, like you’re beating your head against a wall. And yet, I still hang on to the ideals of free speech and the hope that words indeed have the potential to transform cultures and relationships. Perhaps the White Discussion line applies to me  – our sanity walks away - I’m thinking about the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But, maybe it doesn’t have to be the same thing over and over, maybe there are different ways of talking about freedom, dialogue in place of discussion, that really can revolutionize our relationships. I just returned from such an idealistic conference, where the featured speaker, Rob Voyle, inspired us with the methodology of appreciative inquiry and stories of how strategies based on this kind of dialogue really have transformed hearts and minds. So maybe when that final sunset does roll around, and we say look at where all this talking got us, we’ll be able to see a real journey, a journey that has led us toward freedom.

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