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By Rajesh Oza Email By Rajesh Oza
May 2009

Dear PMG:

This year, my son began listening to hip-hop and rap. At first, I was a bit amused that this suburban honor-roll student was listening to music that has its roots in the inner city. Then, my wife and I got a bit tired of the same da-da-dum, da-da-dum cacophony. But for the most part, we didn’t restrict his choice of music, believing in the freedom of expression.

But my wife recently alerted me to the mindless lyrics of these songs. They promote a violent, misogynistic worldviewthat we just cannot accept. We’re ashamed that for some time we even tapped our toes to songs that promote hatred. When we confronted our son, he dismissed our concern, saying we were “making a mountain out of a mole hill.” He insisted that he and his friends only danced to the music and ignored the words.

Please help us end the distasteful and disturbing noise coming out of our son’s bedroom!

Dear Friend,

This is a particularly vexing situation because it requires that we hold two opposing ideas in our minds at the same time: rejection of vile thoughts and tolerance of the expression of those same thoughts. Thus, this Satyalogue requires two quotes from Gandhiji.

“Deeds are indifferent caricatures of our thoughts.”

“Tolerance obviously does not disturb the distinction between right and wrong, or good and evil.”

First and foremost, neither you, nor your wife, nor your son should be under any illusion that music is just about creative expression. In our overtly commercialized modern world, music is made because it sells. And in a society where presidents sell wars with words like “shock and awe,” it is not surprising that “gangsta” rappers sell CDs with shocking and awful lyrics.

That said, these lyrics are not just about dollars and dances. As you discuss the importance of the words in your son’s music collection, it may be illuminating to share Ralph Waldo Emerson’s aphorism: “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” I am sure all of you hope that your son’s destiny is to be in a loving relationship, not one that glorifies verbal or physical abuse.

It is important to reinforce with your son that freedom of expression is indeed a core family value, and that this freedom is at the heart of a vibrant democratic culture. Indeed, in his wonderful book, The Argumentative Indian, Amartya Sen wrote, “Discussions and arguments are critically important for democracy and public reasoning.” While it is laudable that you tolerate your son’s choice in music, it is equally vital that you clarify that this tolerance should not be confused with ethical neutrality. The parental job description requires that father and mother socialize their child in a way that makes a “distinction between right and wrong, or good and evil.”

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