“The longer one is alone, the easier it is to hear the song of the earth.” ~ Robert Anton Wilson.
Every once in a while I will hear someone singing a song and say “Oh, that’s what that line says?” I’m sure it has happened to you too. There used to be a segment on a radio show entitled ‘Misheard lyrics’ where listeners could call in and share their funniest lines. Even in church we have memories of confusing lyrics, like the one about poor ‘Gladly, the cross-eyed bear’. Sometimes hearing the correct version is actually a disappointment, the version you create may seem much more appropriate.
But when you put a verse to music, magic happens. As a technique of memorization, it is amazing. Many of us learned the alphabet by singing the ABC song. I have to admit I changed my own version of the alphabet after I learned the rule that ‘u always follows q’ and started saying ‘…n o p q u…’. Learning to think in abstract concepts is a developmental marker, as kids we are very concrete.
There is something about music, about songs, about dancing, that is universal. Whether it is a baby soothed to sleep with a lullaby, or a victim of dementia singing songs from his youth, music frees and unites us. Listening to my favorite radio station the other day, I learned about a contest that has been around for fourteen years, a prize offered to PhD students to put their research to music. Google ‘Dance your PhD’ if you are interested! A group of Swedish graduate students won with their rap video celebrating how clouds are formed. Another science student from France used belly dancers to demonstrate how plastic breaks down and ends up polluting our earth.
Educators have known for quite a while that creativity is the key to learning. Reading a book exposes you to information, but manipulate that information into a rhyme, a pattern, a mnemonic, and suddenly that knowledge is yours. I have used the technique in my classroom, having groups of students working together to create a rap, a poem or a song to make some concept memorable. There are always those who hate the activity, and those that run away with it, creating something far better than I could have ever hoped for.
In this same week I saw a physician from New York who decided to take his campaign for public education about COVID-19 and the vaccine to a higher level by inviting rap artists to put his message to music. In fact, he even rapped some of the lines himself! Presenting information in a way that is both easy to understand and appealing increases the chances of people hearing and acting upon it. I am always amazed at how lazy (or rushed) we have become in health care, printing out reams of patient education to give to someone when they are discharged. Pharmacists do the same. A simple personal presentation explaining key points would be far more useful. Who goes home and reads any of the print-outs?
Helping people to understand the need for vaccination will be the key to returning our society to some semblance of normalcy. But there is so much misinformation that abounds. People have ‘heard that’ all kinds of things, from making women sterile, to making men lose their libido. And yet we are all here and alive because of childhood vaccinations. And by now we all know of someone (probably more than one) who died of COVID-19.
The other day I posted in social media when I went to get my first dose of the vaccination. A school-mate commented on my post. I had not heard from him in years, until he sent me a ‘friend request’. At first I did not recognize his face nor his name, until I read his message. I remembered him by the cruel nickname he had been given, because of a disability. He was known as ‘Hoppo’ because of his atrophied leg, a result of childhood polio. In his post he related his personal experience. His parents, listening to the fearmongering in his village, had refused to let him be vaccinated, and he contracted the disease. He spent six years of his early childhood in a rehabilitation center and started primary (elementary) school at age ten. In the way that all children are cruel, he was teased and mocked for his disability, and had to fight discrimination all his life.
Yet in the way that only strong and resilient people can, he went on to live a full life. In early adulthood he wrote and acted in a play, performed to great acclaim in the town in which he lived. Yes, he overcame, but a simple shot in the arm could have given him a different childhood, a different path altogether.
This strange year has taught us many things. But one of the biggest victims during this time has been truth. Misinformation (aka propaganda and lies) has allowed many to be brainwashed, to believe what they want to, to doubt science and the scientists. But how can we resist science when so much of what we rely on has been built on the work of rigorous research? It may take the arts to turn it around, to illuminate and illustrate the facts. A story about one person’s life experience can be more powerful than a host of charts and statistics.
Perhaps the way forward is a true marriage of arts and sciences. With science we can move forward, but the arts can move people. On this Friday morning I celebrate the scientists and artists, who bravely imagine the world to be a better place. It is up to us to do our part in sharing the stories and the science and encouraging our kids to think and create for themselves.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!