Bad is stronger than good, that’s an established fact. Negative events—losing money, being abandoned by friends, receiving criticism—have a stronger impact on us than the equivalent positive events—winning money, making friends, or receiving praise. We remember their sting for years. Salient incidents of conflict shape our identities, our relationships, and our memories more so than incidents of harmony.
That’s probably why negativity sells so many records. Heavy metal, gansta rap, shock rock, industrial, punk—those are all genres that succeeded by harnessing negativity.
One thing we don’t hear a lot of in contemporary music is hope. Yet this kinder and gentler concept can be powerful in its own way. Think of the power of Bob Marley’s ubiquitous image, music, and lyrics so many years after his death. As Roger Steffens wrote in an essay on Bob Marley, his imagery, gracing numerous t-shirts, flags, and other manifestations, is “well nigh a new universal language, the symbol… of freedom throughout the world.”
The reason Bob Marley lives so strongly in the public imagination is because his music had a meaningful positive message . It wasn’t just positive in a let’s-have-a-good-time kind of way, though there was some of that. Marley’s music was transformative, aspiring to make the world a better place (and arguably, made real progress on that front).
Leaders who are able to truly have a long-lasting influence are those who give us hope. In a chapter in the recent book How To Be A Positive Leader, professor Oana Branzei of the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University defines hope as the belief that people and situations can and will change for the better. Political leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela or religious leaders like Mother Theresa and Archbishop Ddesmond Tutu had their powerful impact because they convinced others that a better future was possible and doable.
Hope is powerful because it energizes and propels people forward even when the odds are against them. It helps people find innovative ways to work around their constraints. Hope helps people rise above their circumstances.
Both positivity and negativity can help people get through tough times. The difference is that positivity can lead the way toward positive action for a better future. In periods of great social upheaval such as United States in the 1960s, positive music provided a motivating soundtrack.
Recently, a resurgence of positive reggae music has been offering messages of hope to a growing audience. Bands such as Rebelution, SOJA, Tribal Seeds, The Expendables and Iration have brought reggae and its positivity into the twenty-first century. For these bands, reggae music enhances the effectiveness of what they have to say. As Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote in The Mysticism of Sound and Music, “Music raises the soul of man even higher than the so-called external form of religion…That is why in ancient times the greatest prophets were great musicians.”
“If I would just say my lyrics in a speech without the music, I don’t know if it would really get to people,” told me Eric Rachmany, front man and songwriter for the reggae band Rebelution. “But because I’m doing it through music, it has a way to get to the soul in a way that can’t necessarily be done just through speaking.” The fans seem to be getting the message. The band’s fourth album, Count Me In, recently entered the Billboard charts at number 14, selling 17,201 copies in its first week.
“People want to root for positive music,” said Rachmany. “They hear an uplifting song and they want to spread it to their friends and their family. I think people are really dying for this positive movement.” Rachmany himself was inspired by another reggae artist, Don Carlos. “I felt loving energy when I saw him play and I want to do the same thing.”
Leaders can also harness the power of hope to bring out the best in others and create more positive and effective organizations. Branzei offers three guiding principles for infusing hope into work. First is acting “as if,” or taking action as if the positive outcome is guaranteed. Acting “as if” helps overcome the inertia of the status quo. It presents the goal as possible and attainable. Second is offering relief from hopelessness. Leaders can remind people to focus and refocus on the positive. To keep moving forward. Third, leaders can create hope by making it public, by staging opportunities for hope to be shared and spread.
If they use hopeful music, they might be able to do all three more effectively. Given all the negativity out in the world, they will need all the help they can get.
From Forbes Magazine