I often reflect on where my beliefs come from. I can see they’ve changed significantly over time. As I’ve altered who I listen to, my thoughts and beliefs have changed, and I’ve changed for the better.
In my teen years I was strongly influenced by popular culture. I loved the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. Much of the message I heard was quite hedonistic and contrary to more traditional teachings I heard in school and in church. I really didn’t give it a lot of thought. After all, Keith Richards himself said, “I don’t think rock ’n’ roll should be analyzed or even thought about deeply.” Is it any wonder that I was confused?
As I grew older, I began to look at the lives of those considered great by society. I saw that people like Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa stood out from the rest. These were people of power, of influence, of integrity; they were people who were changing the world for the better. Their lives stood in stark contrast to those of Mick Jagger and Sid Vicious. Maybe Richards was wrong. Maybe it was good to think deeply about the messages I was hearing.
I began to analyze the lyrics of the songs I was listening to. I began to look at other popular media with a critical eye. Often, I heard a message glorifying substance abuse and fornication. Were people who indulged in these things better off for having done so?
As looked at the world more objectively, I realized that substance abuse could lead to addiction, mental illness, unemployment, organized crime and even prison. Given that schizophrenia was already present in my family, did I really want to put my future at risk by using drugs?
Was a one-night stand going to lead to true fulfilment, or was I going to risk hurting another person, dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and becoming a carrier of a sexually-transmitted infection?
It suddenly didn’t seem as cool as Mick Jagger said it was.
There’s much more to life than what’s presented in the popular media. There are wonderful, universal principles that lead to peace and happiness. These include integrity, respect, self-sacrifice, wisdom, truth and love. These are the principles followed by those whom I considered truly great, people I wanted to emulate.
But who is capable of being truly great?
We all are. As more of us choose to be so, the world becomes better.
There are many great teachers who instruct us on how to achieve true happiness and success. More important than their words, however, is their example. Since the principles are universal, they each teach the same message in their own way.
It’s also important to note that no person is perfect. We all have our faults and our struggles. No one deserves to be placed on a pedestal. Greatness is not perfection. Greatness is attainable whereas perfection … who would even want to be perfect?
It’s quite fascinating to take a step away from the popular media and look at it critically, to ask if that’s what we really want to believe and if that’s how we really want to live.
We really do become what we think about. If we search earnestly for truth, we will always find it.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.