Building Tolerance and Empathy through Music

Building Tolerance and Empathy through Music
How Music Reflects Life

Musicians create music that reflects life from their perspective. As listeners, we develop an affinity to music that makes us feel comfortable and often resist listening to music that makes us feel uncomfortable. However, being out of our comfort zone can open hidden pathways within us if we’re willing to expand our listening patterns and habits.

Years ago after taking our sons to school, I parked in the driveway and continued listening to their HALO video game soundtrack CD. It was mesmerizing–the heavy drum rhythms, expansive orchestration, full chorus, and powerful guitar tracks unlocked hidden aspects I was surprisingly ready to explore. My natural tendency had been to resist listening to this type of forceful music as it felt invasive, overwhelming, and too intense. This day was different; I was prepared to explore and feel my resistance. The result was an unexpected realization that all music has the potential to bring inner peace when we listen in a conscious way. The key is how we listen.

Society categorizes music in genres to help identify the aspects of life reflected in that sound–classical, rap, new age, metal, rock, blues, country, etc. It’s natural to listen to genres that feel most familiar to us. I admit, as a classically trained professional harpist, my musical tastes exploded when our two boys were old enough to call me out on my subconscious prejudices and racial assessments of the music they enjoyed. It was not comfortable to honestly explore my inner judgments but it was necessary if I wanted to develop a deeper sense of tolerance for the music my boys passionately listened to every day.

Building Tolerance

We began slowly, listening to heavy metal music during our morning drive to school; not just heavy metal but black metal, death metal, symphonic metal, from groups around the globe. At first it was painful to endure the apparent nonsensical growling vocals, incessant power bass drumming, and whaling electric guitar riffs. The energy moving through this music felt forced, angry, combative, even threatening and those were feelings I didn’t want to experience; mostly because they were feelings I didn’t want to address within myself. The boys were persistent and knew it was time for me to grow out of my comfort zone. Some days the entrainment of the drums and bass were too much and we’d change the track. Using discernment was an empowering step in building tolerance and helped open honest communication between me and the boys that grew into a comfortable morning ritual.

It takes courage to use music as a method of self-discovery; to honestly feel the feelings resonating within your body as you listen to new styles of music. Listening in small doses, almost like musical homeopathy, increased my tolerance and appreciation for this new genre.

LifeMusic is a way of expressing our individual experiences of life Image: Eric Nopanen.

Building Empathy

The lyrics often eluded me until I asked the boys, “What are they saying?” This simple question forever changed my perspective and experience of metal music. I learned about the ancient myths and historical figures eulogized in the lyrics and stories of band members who endured personal tragedy. My heart opened to feel this music as an expression of another human being’s experience of life and as a result, I learned more about myself.

Music is an expression of the philosophy of our times and of our diverse cultures. Each culture is composed of individuals experiencing life from their unique perspectives, inspired to express themselves through their distinctive style and genre of music. As we encounter these diverse genres, we have the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, if we’re courageous enough to explore.

While driving home one evening I decided to do some ‘conscious listening.’ I turned on the radio–a country song was playing. Normally I would immediately change the station but chose to listen to the words and feel the story. Unexpected empathy emerged as my heart quieted the preconceived judgments within my mind. What a different type of listening experience! I changed to a rap station, listened, felt, and noticed a growing empathy for that musician’s message. The next station played hits from the ‘80s. Memories of high school flooded my mind as I listened to familiar songs with fresh ears and an open heart. I discovered a lot about myself that evening simply because I chose to consciously listen and honestly feel.

The Universal Language of Music

There is a healing quality in all music because it’s an expression of someone’s thoughts, ideas, emotions, pain, joy, and spiritual connection. As human beings, we are intimately connected to one another and music has the potential to build bonds of community that release fears, repair misunderstandings, rectify differences, restore hope, heal and unify our mind, body, and soul.

In a world full of separation, anger, prejudice, fear, judgment, and pain, perhaps by expanding our familiar musical tastes we could slowly develop a listening ear for others who may not fit into our comfortable genres. Perhaps listening to music that expresses life experiences from different perspectives will naturally nurture more tolerance and empathy for our brothers and sisters around the globe.

Music is a universal language, but only to the extent we are willing to listen consciously. Music can be a profound step in the exploration of self, in the conscious act of honest reflection that goes by many names–mindfulness, meditation, self-discovery, self-empowerment, and enlightenment.

I believe that ‘Peace begins within’ and music is a powerful way in.

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Kate Guy
3 years ago

Yes,another interesting article.
Generally all well known points, but a positive and insightful forum to discuss ideas.
Thank you,
Kate Guy

william wintermute
3 years ago

Wow that’s so deep in thought I almost got lost, Yes you are correct and I am proud and very blessed to be able to play the guitar and share my everyday struggles and maybe even happiness or sometimes sorrow it all depends on the mood or the surroundings, And you hit the nail right on the head per-say 110% of that article That’s so cool. ALSO’ thanks for bringing a few more of the words I seem to strip over when I try to explain it very much appreciated

Luke Smith
3 years ago

Thanks for the assurance that it’s natural to listen to music that sounds familiar to us. At this age, the older generation doesn’t appreciate some of our music anymore, so I’m finding it hard to share my music preferences with my mom or dad each time they ask recommendations from me. It seems like I just have to go with the flow and make them hear the new progressive rock music that I’ve been listening to because they might appreciate it sooner or later.

Amy Camie
4 years ago

Auh, yes…the plant growing experiment ~ hahaha All that metal music really stimulated growth! 🙂

4 years ago

I remember.LOL. AND the plant growing experiment. Who knew! Thanks for the reminder to keep our ears, minds, and hearts open.

4 years ago

This is a lovely article! My daughter has offered me the gift of listening deeply to the stories in music as well. She has given me the opportunity to connect with her generation, be present and hold space for their healing… it is a beautiful thing!

Andrew Back
4 years ago

Thank you for this article. Music is indispensable to me whether from Gabriel Faure John McLaughlin or some other artist. I like to think my listening tastes are pretty wide but, this article has helped me to appreciate my fellow brothers and sisters through the conduit of musical expression which has allowed me to expand my acceptance of genres i would not have consciously listened to, and the personal stories which move through that energy.

4 years ago

I had a young man on my farm who was a volunteer. He was one of the nicest and open hearted men I had ever met. He exuded so much love and caring. He looked straight into my eyes and I felt waves of love coming from him. One day he told me that he was in a rap band. I was not interested in rap but he offered me the chance to see a video of his band online. I agreed and when I saw it . . . I did not like the crazy almost violent energy that I felt when watching it. Afterwards he proceeded to tell me about his life and all the hardship he been through as a child.. . . living in our present day society. He also said that before he got into rap he was severely depressed and not wanting to live. The music that he played and danced gave him the opportunity to express his anger at what had happened to him and that the other band members had the same experience.
There are so many young and highly sensitive people that cannot deal with the way the world is now. He was one of those. He was able to get off all his medication and proceeded to live a life filled with gratitude and love.
So I FINALLY understood what rap was about. It’s an outlet for pent up anger and it heals those that take part in it.

4 years ago

Thought provoking… thank you.

4 years ago

A very interesting article for me to read. I am 89 years of age and have heard music al my life, coming from a military family I like all forms of their music. Brought up listening to all forms of jazz and rock I like that…I have often turned off other types of music as they were alien to me….perhaps I should now listen, learn and appreciate them?

Kathy Woods
4 years ago

I was talking to a man about music that he listened to in the 1960s. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t remember some of the powerful Rock music from that time. I told him I was singing Rock-a-bye-Baby & Itsy Bitsy Spider to my small children. He said “and I was listening to that Rock music on the bottom of the ocean playing war games with the Russians so you could sing those songs!”
Amy, as you said in your writing – we don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives and we don’t know which music helps them to find peace.
Thank you for your powerful words.

4 years ago

For me its normal to listen to all kinds of music Amy. It depends of the moment, what I wat to hear right now. Different feelings need different musich. In me.

4 years ago

Beautifully said!!!

Julia Donnell
4 years ago

I loved this article. I love music and keep my mind open to all genres…I hope I do anyway. The words resonated with me …when I lived in Spain….my mind was really opened to different genres of music. Music helped me learn the Spanish Language and Culture and it helped me resonate with their people. All achieved by listening with an open heart.

4 years ago

Beautifully expressed. This article has me listening and appreciating all generes in a new way.

“Each culture is composed of individuals experiencing life from their unique perspectives, inspired to express themselves through their distinctive style and genre of music. As we encounter these diverse genres, we have the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, if we’re courageous enough to explore.” – Amy Camie

Amardeep Subadar
4 years ago

Nice Information

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