I consider myself fortunate for many reasons. One reason in particular is my close relationship to great music. Rock and Roll and I are sort of like brothers. This is partly because I was born in 1966, a couple of years after the Beatles debuted in the USA, coupled with the fact that my two older brothers and older sister were rock music lovers, too. Thus, the greatest music ever created has always been a big part of my life and it continues to be today. In my Fit Mind Warrior’s life, in which I’ve had to find resiliency to overcome the external and internal road blocks to happiness, I have relied on music as a powerful tool. Music has been a companion in times of loneliness, a consoler in times of sadness, and a motivator when I lacked energy to keep going.
It’s also been a pretty good teacher.
The great rock and roll band Styx wrote what I believe to be one of the greatest social-lesson songs ever written by a rock band. The name of the song is, Grand Illusion, and these lyrics begin the lesson:
But don’t be fooled by the radio,
The TV or the magazine
They show you photographs of how your life should be
Imagine, someone else’s fantasy
The message here I believe is clear: the often-negative influence of media on people. Looking back at my life and my experience with media, I would say Styx’s warning is worth heeding. When I was a kid growing up in the 70’s, for example, television was a frequent companion of mine, and many of the characters were my role models. Particularly interesting to my 10 y/o, impressionable, insecure eyes in those TV shows and movies were the men who always had “nerves of steel.” These men were supremely confident and unflinching in their decision making and knew just what to say and just what to do in just about every situation, despite flying arrows, explosions, blocked getaways, bad guys, and much, much more. Even the fathers on the family based shows, like the Brady Bunch and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, were always so wise and self-assured and perfectly measured in their parenting. What an inspiration they were in my daydreams of future manhood and fatherhood.
I admired those characters for a few reasons. For one, they were the good guys. They beat up the bad guys but were kind to other good guys. They were also kind to their kids, even when disciplining them. But, I admired them for another reason: they showed me something that I wanted very much back then—the promise of a future manhood that would be full of strength and confidence and self-assurance; a manhood devoid of childhood demons like fear, self-doubt, frustration, and insecurities of all kinds. They promised me a future free from bad feelings and the monsters under the bed.
Then I grew up and learned the truth, that what I watched was mostly a façade. Not a total façade, mind you, as these characters did often display behavior which any young man would want to model, along with some that we would not want to model. And I guess you can’t really ask for much more than that in a role model, especially one who’s not real.
But here’s the stuff about manhood that I wasn’t learning from Adam 12: While I no longer consider myself insecure, nor have I been afraid of monsters under my bed in a long time, I do still experience plenty of “bad” feelings, some of which followed me from childhood: fear, uncertainty, frustration, self-doubt, bitterness, loneliness, jealously. Adulthood has even added some new ones, like fatigue, anxiety, and most recently, depression. Yes, I am strong and brave in life and in the face of danger, and I’m also gentle and loving with my family the way those men pretended to be on TV and in the movies, but I’m also sometimes weak, afraid, and uncertain of how to take on the next parenting challenge. I am also sensitive, hurt by others more so than I would prefer. Of course that’s the part that wasn’t on display in those shows, the most important part–that which we feel inside. Yes, I was fooled, but we all were.
How did I learn the rest? The same way most other 10 year-olds from my generation learned—I grew up and figured it out as I went! Only, I went a step farther than some by actually assuming a couple of the semi-superhero roles, portrayed by the actors on the screen. First, I lived the role of brave, tough sailor, working the flight deck of an aircraft carrier on the high seas; then, a long successful career as a firefighter, facing down danger from the front seat of a fire engine. Stranding 6’2, athletic, and 200 pounds, I not only look like some of my old role models, I often talk like them, too. Today I am a mature man, a father, a husband, a fire captain; happy, smart, strong–only, the experience is not exactly what I expected, based on the “television brochure” that I fell for, back when I was 10.
Now, with that in mind, Styx now provides the very best parts of their lesson:
So if you think your life is complete confusion
Because you never win the game (and your neighbor’s got it made)
Just remember that it’s a grand illusion
‘Cause deep inside we’re all the same
The lesson here is about how we often let our net worth define our self-worth. We evaluate our stuff—our intellect, bodies, jobs, cars–with an eye on quantity and quality, by comparing it to others. It’s like a game, but one that we often use to define ourselves. I don’t know if this is in our DNA as humans, or if it’s something we learn, but if ever there was an example of being fooled by an illusion, this would be it. Why? Because just like those childhood heroes of mine who failed to show the most important part of being a man—the human part—so, too, will your co-worker’s bigger, newer house, or his superiority in smart-ass arts, fail to show you anything that will help you find joy in this moment, or help you gauge your future happiness.
Now, that’s not to say we should never compare ourselves to, or learn from, other people. Like those good guys I admired on the screen for their good behavior, let’s model the behavior in our friends and neighbors that can teach us something valuable, like kindness, honesty, conscientiousness, compassion, and hard work. Besides that, other people’s beliefs, physical attributes, skills, and wealth are better left on their side of the street. That’s the only place where they carry any value.
But, If we are to stop playing the game, stop defining ourselves and judging ourselves based on our stuff compared to other people’s stuff, i.e., if we let go of the Grand Illusion, then what do we do instead?
Fortunately, Styx helps us here, too, by pointing out that when you get away from the illusion, we are left with one simple truth
…deep inside we are all the same.
In other words, we are ALL human. When we define ourselves this way, and not by comparisons, we are then free to let go of many of the negative feelings that go along with “losing the game.” Then, having finally jettison our obsessions with how we measure up to others, how we “fit in,” and whether or not we’re good enough, smart enough, rich enough, the payoff is that we become free to create more room in our lives for the best parts of being human—love, empathy, joy, forgiveness. The real stuff! The stuff that matters! The stuff we all want!!
On behalf of Fit Mind Warriors everywhere, I thank you, Styx! Not only for rocking our socks off for all these years, but for teaching us the kind of timeless lessons that Fit Mind Warriors everywhere can use as part of an arsenal of resiliency, in the face of life’s many headwinds.
Photo by Farhad Sadykov