Tag Archives: emotional intelligence

An emotional journey through a lifetime of “popular music,” by Bob Zuber

14 Feb


A bit over a year ago, while listening to the radio in my office, I heard a song that immediately evoked a flood of emotions in me, emotions that were neither unfamiliar nor particularly limited to that one song.  But it got me to thinking – as a devotee of what is known as “pop music” – about the many songs over many years that made me sing and, more importantly, kept me sane.   There were times in my life – too many probably – when a pop music station and its sometimes bouncy, sometimes mournful, sometimes profound, sometimes light tunes and lyrics that was all that stood between me and prolonged bouts of despair: getting through childhood, profound relationship disappointments, medical issues and, most often, coping with the human condition and the propensity of so many of us for self- and other-destructive behavior.

Through lean and lonely times, through many personal passions and professional investments that often amounted to little in the end, through threats to life and integrity – some self-imposed —  the following list of tunes had as much to contribute to my well-being and determination to persevere than any academic degree or intimate investment.   With all due admiration for the many people with whom I have shared – and continue to share – an emotional bond, these songs allowed (mostly healthy) emotions to flow that would have likely stayed dammed up if left to their own devices.

I’ve been working on this for months.  Valentine’s Day seems like a good time to launch.

In preparing this “100 list,” there were a few ground rules that I followed:

  • Over many weeks, I listened to hundreds of pop songs on radio stations and You Tube which were both important reminders of beloved music and suggestive of other songs that I had “forgotten about” for a variety of reasons, including at times because of the conflicted memories that were evoked. This forgetting was particularly evident with regard to artists who were relative “flashes in the pan,” putting out one or two songs that resonated, but without a consistent body of work.  Indeed a couple of those “one hit wonders” made my final list.
  • I gathered together an initial list of about 280 songs, all of which had cause to make my final grouping, and then started to whittle them down. This was enormously difficult, at times frustrating. While the final list covers my entire sentient life span, songs are bunched during the eras where the need (even more than the desire) for them was greatest – in childhood, after a major breakup, before and after heart surgery, at the closing of an inspirational project, a familiar office, my beloved Harlem parish church.
  • I made a tactical decision to include no more than 2 songs from any one artist. This was necessary to help me finally consolidate the list, but also raised problems.   What, for instance, do you do about the Beatles?  While there is probably no Beatles song that would make my emotional top 20, it would be possible to fill virtually half the “100” list by pilfering songs from Revolver or the White Album.  Other artists – Chicago, Michael Jackson, Genesis, Pink, Carole King just to name a few – created for me their own numerical challenges.
  • The other “rule” was that I would focus on songs that had demonstrable public access and popularity. In other words, there were no “meaningful” tunes pulled from the last soundtrack of relatively obscure albums.  In this current age of You Tube and ITunes, it is more possible than ever to create highly “personal” lists of music which one can then self-reference, over and over.   I wanted to be sure that all of these “100” songs, if at all possible, were more likely than not to have affected a good number of other people as well, that the emotional impact of these tunes is in some sense a shared venture.
  • There is absolutely no implication here regarding quality. This is not a “critics” list, but a list of the songs that acted for me as a kind of “emotional stint,” keeping the life blood flowing at times when the arteries feeding that life were unusually clogged.   If I spent more time with the list it would surely modify in some aspects, perhaps because I would “rediscover” more one-hit wonders or perhaps because I would change my mind (for the hundredth time) regarding which 12 songs were “last in” and which songs were “last out.”  As noted, I was struggling over a list much larger than “100,” a list that, in full, would have perhaps provided a better overview of my often-complex and occasionally dysfunctional emotional web, probably along the lines of “more information than you would ever need.”   But choices had to be made, and this list represents a reasonable, non-hierarchical reflection of my interaction with a life of “popular” tunes.

I’m sharing this now rather than working on it further (which might have included hyperlinking all the songs or even trying to “order” them by their importance) because I mostly just want to commend this as an activity, surely for anyone over 40 with a long relationship with the pop music world.  The truth about us, even those who have achieved fame and fortune, even those who have learned extraordinary coping mechanisms to adjust to life’s challenges, is that we will forever be that person who uses the music of the times – the music of your times – to maintain their bearings in the world.

There is much gratitude for me to pass around over the course of my life to people who brought out things in me I never could have brought out in myself, those who are the real heroes of my own modest contributions.  In some significant way, these songs are also heroic as they “hit a nerve” at times in my life when I could not see clear to hit my own.   Thanks to all of you and to these artists as we celebrate – or perhaps just cope with — yet another Valentine’s Day.

100 Songs for the (my) Ages

A Thousand Years, Christina Perri

Abraham, Martin and John, Dion

Africa, Toto

Against All Odds, Phil Collins

Alejandro, Lady Gaga

Along Comes Mary, the Association

Always a Woman, Billy Joel

America, Simon and Garfunkle

Angie, Rolling Stones

Aud Lang Syne, Dan Fogelberg

Beautiful Day, U2

Behind Blue Eyes, The Who

Bette Davis Eyes, Kim Carnes

Black Water, Doobie Brothers

Breakaway, Kelly Clarkson

Candle in the Wind, Elton John

Carry On, Crosby Stills Nash

Cat’s in the Cradle, Harry Chapin

Daydream Believer, Monkeys

Drops of Jupiter, Train

Easy to be Hard, Three Dog Night

Fire to the Rain, Adele

First Cut is the Deepest, Rod Stewart

Fool on the Hill, Beatles

Forever Young, Rod Stewart

Get Together, Youngbloods

Give Me a Reason, Pink

Giving You the Best That I Got, Anita Baker

Good Vibrations, Beach Boys

Hard to Say I’m Sorry, Chicago

He Ain’t Heavy, Hollies

Hello, Lionel Richie

Here Comes the Sun, Beatles

Here He goes Again, Dolly Parton

Human Nature, Michael Jackson

I Can’t Stop Loving You, Ray Charles

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, U2

I Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston

I’m Going Home, Daughtry

I’m into Something Good, Herman’s Hermits

In the Ghetto, Elvis Presley

In Your Eyes, Peter Gabriel

Isn’t She Lovely? Stevie Wonder

It Ain’t Me Babe, Bob Dylan

It’s Too Late, Carole King

Jump, Van Halen

Just Breathe – Anna Nalick

Killing Me Softly, Roberta Flack

Landslide, Stevie Nix

Let’s Hear it for the Boy, Deniece Williams

Lion Sleeps Tonight, Tokens

Live to Tell, Madonna

Living in the Past, Jethro Tull

Lola, The Kinks

Love Me Two Times, Doors

MacArthur Park, Richard Harris

Maneater, Hall & Oates

Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight & the Pips

Missing You, John Waite

Oh Very Young, Cat Stevens

Old Man, Neil Young

Operator, Jim Croce

Paradise, Cold Play

Payphone, Maroon 5

PYT, Michael Jackson

Rich Girl, Hall & Oates

Ruby, Kenny Rodgers

Sailing, Christopher Cross

Save the Best for Last, Vanesa Williams

Schools Out, Alice Cooper

Send in the Clowns, Judy Collins

Sherrie, Steve Perry

So Far Away, Carole King

Some Nights, Fun

Somebody that I Used to Know, Gotye

Something in the Way She Moves, James Taylor

Stay, Rhianna

Straight Up, Paula Abdul

That’s the Way I Always Heard it Should Be, Carly Simon

The Boxer, Simon and Garfunkle

These Dreams, Heart

Throwing it all Away, Genesis

Time after Time, Cyndi Lauper

Titanium, Sia and David Guetta

Touch Me in the Morning, Diana Ross

Trouble, Taylor Swift

Vincent, Don MacLean

Walk of Life, Dire Straights

Walking in Memphis, Marc Cohn

Want it that Way, Backstreet Boys

We Don’t Need Another Hero, Tina Turner

We’ve Only Just Begun, Carpenters

What a Feeling, Irene Cara

What a Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong

What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye

White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane

Wichita Lineman, Glenn Campbell

Wide Awake, Katy Perry

Words of Love, Mamas and Papas

You’re the Inspiration, Chicago

The Young and the Restless:   Seeking a Wider Gaze at UN Headquarters, Dr. Robert Zuber

17 Apr

It was a chaotic and, in some ways, historic week at the UN with major sessions on the threats of terrorism, data-related work by the Commission on Population and Development, special discussions on “drugs and the death penalty” and “the rule of law” (the latter with a focus on children and juveniles), the release of the UN World Water Development Report, assessment of the peace and governance implications of the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit, and of course unprecedented “interviews” of eight candidates for the position of UN secretary-general moderated by current General Assembly president Lykketoft.  (For background on the interviews, including candidate “vision statements,” visit http://www.un.org/pga/70/sg/.)

Amidst all these high level events were a few more “intimate” discussions that raised issues significant for us and other non-governmental organizations. For instance, this past Tuesday, Ambassador Laura Elena Flores Herrera of Panama headlined a breakfast discussion on “Rethinking the Role of Civil Society in an Evolving UN System,” The breakfast was co-sponsored by the Baha’i international community (probably the most generous of the NGOs around UN headquarters) and the International Movement ATD Fourth World (one of the more “grounded” groups around these parts).

Ambassador Flores Herrera has been a breath of fresh air since assuming her current post in late 2014 and she had some important things to share about the ever-shifting role of NGOs in the UN system.  While (rightly) praising NGOs for their contributions to cementing the 2030 development agenda, she also urged a “widening of our optics” when it comes to partnership building within and beyond our common policy community.  Many of our existing partnerships, she noted, have been disappointing at best, leading some to now distrust the whole notion of partnership building altogether.

Of course none of us can solve global problems alone, not even the largest government or the most well- funded and heavily-branded non-governmental entity.   The question isn’t whether we will have partnerships, but who will they be with and on what terms?   Will they be defined more by generosity and respect or competition and predation? Will they open space for others or shut down helpful alternatives to our often narrow agendas?  Will we as NGOs continue to answer the call when governments (often cavalierly) request more civil society involvement, or will we yield the floor to those many groups worldwide who have important things to share and little opportunity to do so, in part because we in New York so often take up more than our share of policy space?  Is our commitment to a diverse and thoughtful engagement with our system of global governance sufficient to overcome our “duty” to impress our funders and imprint our brand names in every possible conference room?

In sorting through these and related questions, the Ambassador’s notion of “widening optics” was most helpful.   It calls to mind our collective attention deficits, our apparent need to share our own “positions” when we could be serving as the eyes and ears of a vast, rich policy community that, for no particularly good reason, will never be invited to sit in the places we do. It calls to mind our emotional limitations, the deficits of transparency and clarity that we tolerate in ourselves all while critiquing this in our institutions and those who run them.   It calls to mind cognitive dysfunctions that manifest themselves as hyper vigilance around mission statements and policy preferences while willfully ignoring other policy urgencies attached to those preferences, not to mention the many communities worldwide still desperately seeking policy relief.

And it calls to mind our collective discomfort with having our assumptions challenged by new and perhaps even “naïve” voices, persons young and old who perhaps do not represent UN policy interests but, in their own way, are perfectly fine representatives of human interests, interests that as most of us recognize are now facing considerable strain.   These are the voices that can at least begin to reboot some of our acquired UN habits, reminding us that a deeper engagement with these strains on the world generally lies beyond the limits of our organizational preoccupations.

Two stories this week illustrated this “reboot” for me:

The first involved a New York City middle school girl whose class, thanks to a colleague of ours, came to visit us this week, ostensibly to hear about issues in Asia.   The group wasn’t particularly interested in Asia as it turns out.  They were kids – mostly distracted, peer and smart-phone preoccupied, and seemingly so anxious about their lives.  At the end of our session, the girl came up to me and asked if she could make a YouTube video with Global Action.  About what, I asked?  “I want to teach people how to love,” she replied.   When I mentioned to her that it is perhaps less important to teach about love than to practice it in the world, she agreed but said, “I want to do this anyway. I think it matters.”

The second story came about during the question and answer portion of the Secretary-General candidate-interview with UNESCO’s Irina Bokova.   After fielding many, mostly predictable questions from diplomats, a boy (perhaps 16) from Brazil appeared on the video screen behind the dignitaries and asked, “If you aren’t selected for the job, how will you continue to help change the world? Will you still care about us?”

At that point, delegates sitting in that UN chamber let out a collective but muted chuckle.  The diplomats, as it turns out, are pretty anxious about the world as well, and they have all lived through their share of disappointment. But most of them, I gather, continue to believe that a “position of prominence” is needed in order to make change.  You must become the head of a mission, or UN office, or large NGO in order to make a difference.  The boy apparently didn’t care much about that. Indeed, he was suggesting something else:  that what we really need to make change, even more than fancy “positions,” are big hearts, flexible minds, and a passion to leave the world in better shape than we found it, no matter what obstacles – self-inflicted and not — lie in our path.

Teaching others to practice love better.  Persevering through inevitable failure and disappointment to help heal the world.  These reminders from sometimes restless youth are surely outcomes we would associate with a widening optics, reminders that point to the true, core metrics by which we govern and assess the value of our work in the world, even more than large funders or professional recognition.

Doing more and better than we can ever be compensated for or even recognized for, keeping our eyes open, our brains engaged and our hearts generous – this is perhaps more than anyone could ask of us. But it is also less than we will need if we are to contribute – fully and successfully — to a world that a girl from Manhattan and a boy from Brazil can truly believe in.