Alternative To What?

It seems like just about anything can stimulate me to begin thinking about my life and the lives we collectively lead.

Just the other day I was given a mix CD entitled “Songs you should know, If you don’t already” by a young coworker. My department at work is suddenly full of people who are just beginning their lives or are starting to put on some years of experience. Suffice it to say that our daily conversations have become something of an adventure and are always thought provoking and real.

Since I had never heard of 18 of the 19 groups listed on the aforementioned CD, I took a trip to the iTunes store in order to find a genre of music these songs belonged to. What I found was that all of the songs were listed under the Alternative genre. Which in turn got me to thinking about what alternative really meant since most of the songs are quite different in tone and vocal approach.

According to Wikipedia, “Alternative rock (also called alternative music, alt-rock or simply alternative) is a genre of rock music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1980s and became widely popular by the 1990s.”

In other words, any type of music that didn’t fit under the more established categories, (ie: Jazz, Folk, Rock, Metal, etc.) are thrown into the Alt category.

The music genres that I am most interested in are the singer-songwriter, folk and jazz groupings. Pete Seeger, Miles Davis & Bruce Cockburn fit very comfortably into these three genres.

Anyway, as I was listening to the mix CD, my mind wondered into another related direction—how we tend to simplify and categorize what we know about people and the information they give us about who they are and what they are up to in life.

For instance, a friend of mine has spent the last seven years of his life in Tanzania, Africa, and teaches a course called “Farming God’s Way” to locals in an attempt to help them out of poverty. I had some basic understanding of what I thought this course taught only to find out yesterday that I had made several assumptions without ever really exploring what this Farming God’s Way process actually entailed.

What I realized is that most of us tend to take a piece of information and our minds sort of attempt to fill in the blanks for us to create a “whole”. It is like that line drawing sketch of a face that you see and our brains fill in most of the details that are left out of the basic drawing. We aren’t even aware that we do this—that we create conclusions based on a few fundamental pieces of information without ever considering that what we really know about anything (not fully studied) is only piece meal and almost as useless as putting a group under the Alternative banner when they don’t easily fit into another category.

Recently I read an interesting article that attempted to explain the human condition called a “crush”. Most of us have had “crushes” and understanding what the real dynamics are is quite compelling. You (a guy) are on a bus and see a girl several seats away with an unusual smile or a unique hat or you are struck by the way she turns her head to look at you. What the article explained is that our minds take this little piece of attractive (to us) information and then go on a runaway train trip to create a personality, which is most likely a thousand miles from the actual truth of who this person is. In so creating this “reality” we form a crush based on one or two observations of something that we like about this person and many times even create a scenario where our lives might end up were we to actually meet.

On a more personal note, many people assume that because you identify yourself as a Christian, you are this way or that way when it comes to politics, etc. and they in turn create many impossible-to live-up-to expectations based on their concept of Christianity. If I have learned anything it is that there is more grey than black and white in real life. Not that there aren’t truths’ that form our foundational beliefs, but that life is not always that cut and dry.

I guess by now you can see how my mind took a little turn to the left or right beginning with a few songs on a CD which I had no category to fit them into. Not that categories are bad, but what I have learned is that we can’t let ourselves be trapped into thinking that people and music and art always fit neatly into something that we can know in a brief moment of time. We owe it to everyone to not jump to conclusions and realize that the many boxes we have put things into over the years might need emptying every once and while and thoroughly cleaned out.

Not bad for a days ride or two.


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