Thursday, August 31, 2017

Look What She Made Me Write

One of the most important attributes a person needs to be successful in business is the ability to make a decision.

One of the most important attributes a person needs to be a successful leader and role model to others is the willingness to be accountable for that decision.

So I was disappointed when I heard the song Taylor Swift just released. Ms. Swift has, for several years now, tried to be an example of and promote empowerment among young women. As a father with a similar mindset for my three adult daughters, her messages and actions often resonated well with the guidance I provide to them. From her public persona, Ms. Swift shows strength and decisiveness and a keen acumen for managing her own career, providing a good role model for young women, whether in entertainment or business.

But her new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” undermines the very notion of empowerment and decision-making. The message of the song is that the actions of others have forced Ms. Swift to change, become tougher, and seek revenge. What could be less empowering than to take action because someone else “made” you act? It undermines the core of free will and personal independence to claim someone “made” you do something.

A decision is choosing an option and deciding to act on it. Or not. Regardless of the situation, one always has a choice. Do something (whatever “something” may be) or do nothing. Choosing not to act is a decision to do nothing. Strong, independent people make decisions based on a perception that one choice is better than another. Strong, independent people can't be "made" to make a decision.   

I don’t usually use this forum to critique music and the arts, but her message comes at such an interesting time where our culture seems to have lost the notion of “accountability.” And Ms. Swift has such a powerful impact on that culture that, well, look what she made me write!

Our newspapers and televisions are, almost daily, full of examples of people in government, entertainment or industry who try to shift the blame for their bad decisions or comments to others: “I don’t recall,” “I was taken out of context” and “It’s not true” (until facts emerge to show it is true and the story changes). These are among the phrases that have become routine responses to the question “Why did you do that?” or “Why did you say that?”

In the 70s, a television character named “Geraldine” (played by comedian Flip Wilson) would find herself in a scandalous situation and defend her actions by saying, “The Devil made me do it!” The line always evoked a laugh because Geraldine had, by that time, made so many bad decisions that attributing them to “the Devil” was ridiculous. Geraldine had made her choices but refused accountability.

One can debate the true message of the song because Ms. Swift sings about how the bad behavior of others has made her stronger, so there arguably is a message of empowerment. Maybe. If that’s true, a better title would have been “Look What I Decided To Do.” That title better evokes a theme of independence in making choices. Yes, it’s not as catchy. I suppose that’s why I am in sales and not a songwriter.

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