Sounds of Silence and the Yuletide Spirit

I really need to get better at contributing to this dusty blog.

It seems I only think to write something when provoked, incensed or otherwise essentially emotionally motivated enough to break through my laziness and distraction to do so. Case in point: the weird nexus formed by the impending Christmas holidays, a visit to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra show last night, the discovery of Disturbed’s excellent and chilling cover of Simon and Garfunkel, and the brainless, heartless, selfish and gutless comments posted today criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s holiday speech.

Christmas is not my favourite holiday, but it is the holiday that I most respect for its spirit, and, regrettably, mourn the most for how little of that spirit is turly exemplified. This time of year, there are countless movies depicting the generosity and well-wishing of heart and home that Christmas is meant to represent. Who hasn’t heard or seen the story of the Christmas Carol and Scrooge’s transformation from a selfish miser to a jolly benefactor? Everywhere you look there are stories of the value of solidarity and compassion for your fellows, and the importance of caring equally, or more, for those around you as for yourself. There is an outward celebration of the philosophical ethic of agape, or brotherly love, that few could challenge without feeling a little like old Ebenezer himself. Who, surrounded by messages of compassion, peace and universal good will, could argue with the spirit of the season?

Trans-Siberian Orchestra has been touring for 17 years spreading the warmth of that spirit with a spectacular show. The narrative interwoven between the rock-opera Christmas carols has changed from year to year, but the sentiment has never wavered from that message of holding on to dreams, improving tomorrow no matter what today has been like, and caring for those around you the way you would like to be cared for yourself. It’s sappy and sweet, and a reminder at the end of the year that our myopic focus on the ugliness of the world around us does not need to be our reality, if we’d only choose to change it. Delivered with energetic, powerful music, it’s an antidote to the fatigue that sometimes sets in as the calendar turns over and the winter months settle in.

It’s a message I think we could all stand to hear a little more than just once a year, and the original (well, to me anyways) narrative to the TSO shows ended with the statement that everyday could be Christmas day, if we let it be. And, why couldn’t it be, if we just had the heart to consider it a little?

Justin Trudeau swept to power, perhaps improbably, with a solid defeat of the incumbent Stephen Harper in this year’s federal election. In doing so, Trudeau showed that the sentiments of hope, compassion, cooperation, tolerance and “sunny ways” resounded with people more than the tired threats, fears and suspicion that we had lived with for 10 years of Conservative rule. It was a repeat, of a sorts, of President Obama’s rise to power in the United States with the optimistic declaration that “Yes, we can!” change and make the world a better place.

And we have begun putting substance to the spirit, as Canada has begun contributing to foreign aid around the world and has started the process of welcoming thousands of refugees from war torn Syria, giving a peaceful home to people driven from their own by cruel tyrants and murderers. It shouldn’t be something controversial, and should be something we celebrate. And, for the holiday season, this was Prime Minister Trudeau’s message to Canadians:

And these are some of the comments that were made regarding this message:

“Yeah – you aren’t serving us! You are serving the rest of the world with all your millions you are handing out!”

“What a disgusting speech! No mention at all of Jesus, Christianity or God. The left wants to transform Christmas in a atheist holiday. Even the Christmas message of the king of Jordan speaks of Jesus!!”

“Sorry I wish every-one well BUt in Ontario Our hydro going up : and some credits coming off it : have the Government asking us to check a Box to donate our income tax refunds to pay down the debt, Food costs going up , News says we Most likley didn’t come out of the last recession fully : We still struggle pay cheque to paycheque : Taxes being implimented ( Carbon tax ) property taxes going Up : Living wage Jobs hasn’t changed , YET we manage to bring in and give away $$$$$ to others Yes they are in need .. BUT why do canadians Loose the margin they have in regards to the cost of basic rights of necessities ?”

“Up Yours we barely get by ourselves then bring terrorists in to the country and want us to help the liberals are giving them everything and us Canadians go without even our own homeless aren’t getting anything”

“I agree with you Ron Hicks …. I am all for compassion to those less fortunate but as a born and raised Canadian who worked for over 50 years and collecting a paltry $950 pension I cannot empathize at all. Nobody gives me money for furniture and food. also, leave my Christmas alone! Other religions don’t feel offended by our traditions .. Muslims need to respect our culture and religion. not feel :offended” by what we believe in. If they leave us alone and let us practice our beliefs as they believe in their religion we can all live in peace and harmony. “nuff said. MERRY CHRISTMAS! and HAPPY HOLIDAYS”

Have we really become so insulated in our own self-interest that a message of good-will can fall on so many unwelcome ears, at Christmas time no less?

Art Garfunkel said the Sound of Silence was written with a view to “the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other.” The Sound of Silence was written more than half a century ago, but its relevance has perhaps never been greater than today, a time when our capacity for true human interaction and communication seems to have been stunted by our own technology and willingness to engage with the world around us. Human interaction has become a thing of smart phones, Facebook and Twitter. We socialize electronically, and when we deign to socialize in person it’s with the constant presence and distraction of our electronic devices interrupting. We’ve become a people, as Garfunkel wrote, “talking with speaking, people hearing without listening, people writing songs that voices never shared.”

And, worse yet, we’ve let the false anonymity of our electronic speech embolden our basest nature, our most selfish selves. We express sentiments with our typed words that we would probably feel ashamed to say out loud to someone’s face. We bully and alienate, and we wall ourselves in to our little, silent world of selfishness, concerned only with what matters most to ourselves in the immediate. And, we learn this hatred and intolerance from each other in this way. Reading someone else’s words makes us feel less ashamed of that corner of our own hearts that agrees, and lets it grow. We find a commonality in our ugliness until we excuse it enough to feel it isn’t ugly anymore.

And, in doing so, our ugliness grows.

Maybe the Barack Obamas and Justin Trudeaus come off as too sunny and optimistic for our times. Maybe we think optimism such as theirs has no place in a world threatened with such darkness and difficulty. It’s such a massive departure from what the Stephen Harpers, George Bushes and Donald Trumps advocate, and seems so much less rational. It’s easier to turn to Trump and Bush and Harper, because they talk the same language that we talk when we write in our electronic worlds. Obama and Trudeau speak a different language that doesn’t seem to match.

Or, maybe, optimism and hope are what we need to truly heal the damage that we have allowed ourselves to cause one another because we’ve strayed too far in the direction of that dark place in our hearts. That optimism is the voice in Garfunkel’s lyrics saying:

“Fools,” said I, “you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”

Where have we gotten lost? Have we become so disconnected by becoming connected through technology that we’ve forgotten what it is to be human? Have we forgotten how to feel for those around us and care for the world in the way that all of the sentiments of Christmas implores us to do, not only today, but every day? Because, hope may feel irrational if it ends in disappointment, but nothing can end with our happiness and peace without hope, unless by chance. And, I’d rather try and be hopeful and work towards a better world for all of us, than abandon hope and trust that we’ll be okay, if we’re lucky. Those without hope turn on each other and those around them. Those without hope are the ones that we’re afraid of, because the only way for them to make a better world for themselves is to take from everyone else.

If we’re really the people who wrote the kinds of things that I read regarding the Prime Minister’s Christmas message of hope and good-will, at Christmas time, then maybe we don’t deserve all of those wonderfully fluffy feelings we’re getting from the movies and carols. Maybe we’re pretending at those things. Because, clearly, we sure as hell don’t mean it, really.

Check out this incredible performance of The Sound of Silence by Disturbed. David Draimen’s voice is weathered and subdued at first, which I think is incredibly appropriate. Just how good his voice is actually shocked me, to be honest. And, the anger of the final lyrics echoed frustration at our inability to turn from the cancer that we are feeding. Well, for me, anyways. I can’t think of a more powerful performance of a more surprisingly appropriate song for our times.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Let’s try to think a little less about ourselves, and be a little better towards each other. That would be an incredible gift to the world, and maybe the only way we can keep being a part of it.

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