I WAS an Angry Young Man

Playing Angry Young ManI sat at the piano this weekend plunking around and playing bits and pieces of songs I used to play all the time when I was in my late teens and early twenties.  My youngest son who is currently learning piano was getting quite a kick out of it.  At one point I began playing the intro to Billy Joel’s “Angry Young Man”, which really caught his interest. After he watched me do it a couple times we decided to show him Billy Joel playing it in concert, which is so much better than watching me play it.

This song is by far one of my favorite Billy Joel songs,  It encapsulates so much of the journey I am on as man, a husband, and a father.

Since I was a young boy I have always enjoyed a good debate/argument.  In elementary school I participated in my first formal debate.  We debated whether or not all schools should transition from the traditional model to year-round school.  I had to argue for changing to year-round school.  Now in the spring of my 6th grade year I can assure you I was not really in favor of year-round school… summer was on the horizon.  Through the process though I had to learn to set my ideas and position aside and put myself in the shoes of someone who believed differently than I did. Of all the many skills I have learned in my life none have had more impact or have been more meaningful than this one.  It was the real beginning of how I began to understand the concept of empathy.

Recently I’ve been more and more concerned about empathy, both for myself and for my kids.  The world we live in has some stark fractures in the social fabric.  There are a lot of angry voices out there, people that don’t feel like they are being heard or feeling like they aren’t being represented.  For some reason or the other they feel slighted by a majority of others.  I could go off on a long explanation of how and why this scenario exists, but regardless of why it exists the solution to it lies in our ability to empathize with those that we don’t agree with.

With that in mind I return to my experience in debate. Like I noted before I had to learn to set my ideas and personal positions aside and put myself in the shoes of someone I disagree with.  Learning to do that has allowed me to see the world as they view it. It doesn’t make me agree with them any more or any less than I do, but I understand how they see the world. When I would stand up in a debate round and argue a position that was contrary to my personal beliefs and lost, I felt heartbroken.  I did not believe in the position anymore than before I had begun to argue it, but I always made my case with an eye toward winning.

When I lost it hurt.

When people fight for causes and campaigns they believe in and they lose it hurts.

So here I am this weekend listening to the lyrics of this song I love by one of my favorite musicians of all time and as he hits these lines:

I believe I’ve passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage,
I’ve found that just surviving was a noble fight
I once believed in causes too, had my pointless point of view
Life went on no matter who was wrong or right.

My wife looked over at me and said “hey this is your song”. I don’t know if she realized it then, but that is probably one of the best compliments I have ever received. It is not that I don’t believe in causes or that I don’t have a point of view any more, because I still do, but as a father I have a bigger responsibility.  I have two young boys that I need to guide into responsible young men. The last thing I want to do is teach them to be angry young men.  I want to teach them to empathize with others because that is what the world really needs.  More people thinking about how our actions and words affect others.

Here is a little thing I don’t hear anyone talking about right now, especially in the political environment that we are in today, but come November 9, 2016 here in the United States there are going to be a lot of people with broken hearts.  They will have listened to debates, campaigned for their candidates, and cast their votes all thinking and hoping that their efforts would result in a win for the person and ideals they believe in, only to find out the opposite.

In a political and social climate like we live in today, today’s winners can easily and likely will become tomorrow’s losers,  That will happen despite the impressive amount of work they do to be the winners.  In the end though, life will go on, no matter who was wrong, or who was right.

So the big question facing us is when we find ourselves on the winning side and have an opportunity to empathize, do we have the ability to do so?  I hope so… that is the sincere hope of this formerly “Angry Young Man”.

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