We’re All Searching for a Little Understanding Essay

Let’s admit it. People into punk and hardcore are about as opinionated as they come. We think we understand the world better than others because we think we see things for how they are, we think we have ‘right’ on our side because we’re more ‘ethical’, we write zines packed with strongly-worded articles about what we think and we write lyrics that are meant to be heard and meant to be challenging. None of this is bad, but I think (another opinion! And recognised by the writer – how meta!) much of the problem is that because we each think we know it all, there isn’t much space for what anyone else thinks.

And that’s really sad. In a community of people which enshrines free speech and being ‘open-minded’, there is a distinct paucity of patience for any opinion that does not align neatly with our own, and the people who usually gloat about being so open-minded are often the ones with the most myopic worldviews and can’t stand hearing anything that even vaguely contradicts them. And I think nowhere is this more visible than in the ‘religion doesn’t belong in hardcore/religion does belong in hardcore’ debate. And both sides are to blame. (What I’m writing is as much a rebuke to myself as to anyone else – I’m just as guilty as the next person of thinking I know better everyone else.)

I have an awesome old compilation (fittingly called A Tribute to Broken Walls) which tried to address this very issue some ten years ago. The liner notes succinctly sum up the situation better than I can. It’s pretty sad to see that nothing has changed in ten years:

We need to challenge the stereotypes and prejudices held by believers and non-believers… Whether you’re a person of faith or not, the punk rock subculture is ideally a place where people should listen to one another before making judgements… (both scenes are to blame because) the Christian scene is absolutely uncritical of anything as long as Jesus is thanked in the liner notes (or mentioned at a show), and the secular scene will blow off a band that has Christians in it for no other reason than their spiritual beliefs. Christians need to get over the thinking that people who hold different opinions cannot be learned from, and non-Christians need to get beyond the argument that since Christianity has led to the subjugation and oppression of thousands of people throughout history it is irrelevant. White males have also historically been oppressors, so if you’re using that as a benchmark for whether or not you can be punk rock, then a great majority of the people you see around you at shows will soon have their scene licences revoked.

One of the things that originally got me excited about getting involved in this little scene of ours was just how vibrant and different everyone was, but united by similar ethics and ideals. The punk community should be one which includes people of different ideologies and perspectives. If everyone was the same, how would we learn from each other and grow? I’m glad that people disagree with each other – it shows there’s fire and passion – but the problem is when those disagreements lead to people dismissing each other as irrelevant. And unfortunately, I’ve seen it more and more over the last few years.

Hardcore, like all other movements, is organic. I don’t believe we should stay strictly to the tenets of Minor Threat’s approach, or any other ‘founding’ hardcore band. After all, those bands would have been informed by any number of earlier bands (for example, loads of early folk bands wrote positive, challenging lyrics a lot more inspiring and practical than much of what has come out of hardcore), so trying to stick to some ideal hardcore image is silly. It doesn’t exist. Call me a heretic and cast me out of the scene, but I don’t believe Minor Threat or Black Flag were perfect bands, or even bands I would want to emulate. No band is perfect, and no band or charismatic front man has all the answers.

So, circling back around to my point, hardcore is organic. It will be different all over the world. Bands will sing about different things, they will sound different, but I think something that is central is that it is music with the freedom to tell listeners what is burning in our hearts. If that something that you have to get out and yell into a mic is of a religious, political or personal nature, who is anyone to tell you it doesn’t belong in hardcore?

If we all checked our baggage at the door and started a dialogue at shows, there wouldn’t be so many schisms in the scene. Obviously not everyone is respectful all the time, but I wish we were all a bit more patient with each other. I don’t think it’s up to any of us to say there is no space for christianity/religion/whatever in hardcore. I’ve never been ashamed to say what I believe from the stage. I never told anyone they were wrong, I simply shared what I’ve found true. And I’ll gladly listen to someone who thinks differently. If you find people sharing their opinions offensive, then maybe you’re not as open-minded as you think.

I think that one thing we all need to develop is a thicker skin. I don’t think that someone saying what they believe means they’re ripping on whatever it is you believe. It’s reactionary to get so defensive when a belief challenges yours. Someone saying they follow Jesus doesn’t mean they think what you believe is stupid. And if you think what they believe is a fairy tale, you’re welcome to say it. The key is respect and understanding. I do believe there are ways to talk about these things without mud-slinging or snide remarks. We need to show each other respect and use speech tempered with consideration. Without it, our precious credibility goes out the window, because everyone’s just bullying and pummelling each other with what they believe, not because we want understanding, but because we want to be right. And that doesn’t help anyone. Square pegs, round holes.

So… can we be friends?

October 18 2010
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