On Reflecting and Being Reflected, Musically

I saw a post this morning on LinkedIn which I found really intriguing. It proposed a type of icebreaker for facilitated workshops in which every participant shares a personal “Song of the Day” with the group. My initial response was positive. What a wonderful way to visibly, audibly, emotionally demonstrate the diversity in the room at a given event. Music is such a personal art-form, a powerful way of reflecting and being reflected by artists equipped with special powers of expression. Why not share our “song of the day” and get a chance to appreciate the true depth and breadth of our differences.

Then I thought about it a bit more and considered just what a person might go through deciding on what to share in this exercise. Music is such a personal experience. Sharing my “song of the day” is an act of serious transparency, especially with all the heavy-handed cultural expectations for our gender, our community, our age. So many people seem to find such satisfaction in passing judgment on what we choose to listen to, we can’t help but feel the anticipation of such criticism as we choose what to reveal about ourselves. The temptation will be to pick something that might be well-received, maybe even admired. When someone criticizes our music choices, they are criticizing us. Music is almost always personal. There is deep, heartfelt vulnerability in revealing that I, a 33-year-old male Air Force Non-commissioned Officer love blasting Sia’s song ‘Chandelier’ in my car on my way to work.

And yes… of course I sing along.

Of course I’m willing to push through the discomfort of revealing such things right now, in writing, because I don’t like letting the resistance overpower me. But though I am decidedly against being swayed by my culturally-imposed insecurity, I know for a fact that there is resistance to such transparency. I know that I tend to turn the volume down on certain types of music when I’m getting to the parking lot outside my work, but I’m happy to keep it loud if it’s something more masculine– something that aligns more to how I have been programmed to want to be perceived. Perhaps something violent and bass-heavy.

I should note that at this point in what I’m sharing, I’m feeling two types of discomfort simultaneously now: I feel the discomfort of being transparent about listening to music others might consider too feminine or mainstream… and then I feel ashamed that I’m actually affected by those feelings, because why should I give a shit what people think of my music choices? We are only human. We are affected by one another. We are, on a very deep level, social creatures. We have a lot of work to do, collectively and internally.

There are so many barriers to us truly “bringing our whole selves to work” and I find an exercise like “song of the day” might offer up a chance to truly ask ourselves whether we have the psychological safety to truly do so.

Here’s another exercise I thought of that you might try:

Ask people to imagine the soundtrack of their organization, their team, or their unit. Ask them what genre or genres it encompasses.

Then ask them whether they feel reflected in that soundtrack or choice of genre.

A little bit of abstraction can say a whole lot about how we feel about where we are.

In the spirit of the exercise, here’s my song of the day: Brace, by Twin Shadow

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