New Blog Series: Self-Help Songs
As a philosophy student, I spend most of my time learning about the best ideas we humans have ever had.
One day I'll read about John Stuart Mill's ethic of doing the greatest good for the greatest number, as long as no harm is done in the process. The next I might have to peruse through Aristotle's theory of following a middle path between vice and virtue, in order to be a good person. And maybe then I'll be taught about the Buddhist principle of losing one's self and focussing on love as the only way to be truly happy. But while sitting wide-eyed and amazed by these awesome ideas, something always troubled me.
These principles and theories seem pretty watertight, right? So whenever I read about them, I can't help but wonder to myself, why is the world still full of problems, if these philosophers have offered us so many good solutions to them? Why don't people always act with love as their main motive? Why don't people walk down a middle path between vice and virtue? Why don't people do the greatest good for the greatest number?
Okay, circumstances make it incredibly difficult for a lot of people to do this. But most of these ideas don't require any money or assistance, they start with ourselves.
So why haven't philosophers' ideas spread more widely? When I enquired about this to my teacher, she simply replied, 'Because most people haven't read the books. Sure, they'll hear about the main ideas, but to understand them you have to read the texts. People don't look up to philosophers anymore - they look up to the fickle merry-go-round of popstars and rappers.'
So...what? Is she suggesting that I'm supposed to view Lil Yachty on a par with Plato? If that's the case, then I might as well quit my course now and save myself Â£9,000 a year!â
After a moment of Descartes-style self-doubt, wondering whether my belief in the powers of Philosophy were in jeopardy, I realised that all might not be lost just yet.
Think about it. Artists are the prime champions of free thought and the capacity of ideas, probably even more so than philosophers. At the moment, the charts are full of feel-good, soundbite-philosophies. The past few years have heralded hits called, 'One Man Can Change the World', 'Get Along', 'Donât Be So Hard On Yourself', 'God is a Woman', and at least three called 'Love Yourself'. This is an era where music is trying to inspire us to be better, to be happier and to be ourselves. Yet due to a number of factors, such as the rise of Social Media and Reality TV, people struggle with issues such as self-esteem, mental health and finding a purpose in life, probably now more than ever.
Of course, music isn't going to solve these problems. But the least it can do is help. Whenever review sites (like this one) analyse tracks and albums, we look at what the song means for the artist. We ask, 'What does the artist mean by this?', 'What emotions are they trying to convey?', 'How does this correlate to the recent events in their private life?'
I think these aren't the questions we should be asking. We should instead approach music with the mindset of 'What can I take from this?' Songs often contain incredibly motivational and insightful lyrics, but they get lost in all the focus on the actual artist and how it relates to their life. Well, not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder - meaning is too.
So welcome to a music series with a selfish twist - I'm looking at what songs can teach us about how to be happy, how to love, how to be more appreciative, and many more lessons we can learn from unsuspecting sources. I might call it 'Music Philosophy'. Or maybe 'Self-Help Songs'. Oo, how about 'Headphone Healing'?
Without further ado, my first piece will be on 'How to Be More Decisive'.
Actually, maybe it won't. But then again, maybe it will.
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Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?