Clippings: Let’s come together – Beatles style

My parents hadn’t even met when Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were performing their greatest hits: “Mrs. Robinson,”“Cecilia”and “Bridge over Troubled Water.”Simon and Garfunkel’s split in the ’70s and the initial release of some of Simon’s best songs —“Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,”“Graceland,”“You Can Call Me Al”—are moments I can only imagine.
And yet, when I read a New York Times article the other day announcing Paul Simon’s decision to stop performing and producing, I felt the loss of an icon.
For me, and for so many other millennials, Paul Simon’s music represents an era that is foreign and romantic. He, along with his musical peers, evoke the good vibes that the ’60s and ’70s are so well known for; they’re the antithesis to the omnipresent noise and weight of modern society.
The ’60s and ’70s were defined by the demand for freedom of expression. The Cold War, the Vietnam War, the rise of civil rights issues, the building of the Berlin Wall —these two decades tested every fiber of tradition throughout the world and young people responded in unexpected and innovative ways. Through music and clothing, sexuality and drugs, people the same age that I am now found countless outlets for expression and dissent. And together they transformed society.
I’m a summer intern here at the Addison Independent, a rising senior at Middlebury College and an editor on The Campus, the Middlebury College student newspaper. The college, like campuses in the ’60s and ’70s, is a breeding ground for rebellion and activism with nearly 2,500 intelligent and engaged students living, talking and thinking together. In the classrooms, in the dining halls and through a range of platforms we have an opportunity every day to practice our constitutional right to freedom of expression.
And yet, too often, the discussion goes viral, gets impersonal and we lose control.
Differences in race, socio-economic status, religion and identity on campus are deepened by a constant flow of opinions and information on social media. We post on Facebook and YikYak, we Tweet and Instagram, we blog on Buzzfeed, we express our stream of thought through any variety of outlets.
The stream of information comes quickly, it’s easily accessible and much of it is faceless or anonymous. It’s a whirlwind of information from the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep.
The online world, a place to share and explore, is theoretically an ideal platform for the practice of freedom of expression. But it’s impossible to filter and process it all, and too often we’re left feeling confused, offended, threatened or attacked. In bursts of emotion, the pressure to respond quickly and harshly wins out.
This is where we falter. We don’t think things through and we end up pitting ourselves against each other instead of finding ways to collaborate.
So who can we look to for guidance? Certainly not media celebrities, for whom being thoughtful has lost out to getting rich. Certainly not politicians, divided so deeply along —and within —party lines that even 49 dead bodies in Orlando won’t make an impact on gun control.
Artists, athletes and media icons are so well scrutinized, it’s difficult to separate the bad from the good. Long gone are the days of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and, of course, Paul Simon. We’re even farther from the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. Instead of one-liners and buzz words, these were people who used songs, speeches and books to encourage communication and collaboration.
This is not to say that these social leaders were perfect people. They had their faults and they had their weaknesses, they offended and they challenged. But they were leaders who worked to rally together people and ideas. They knew when to respond and when to hold back. They didn’t point to differences to create division, but instead celebrated similarities. From my perspective in 2016, it seems they brought people together, bound by hope and the promise of change.
What my generation does is up to us. While I’m not calling to bring back Woodstock, I know that we need to come together. We need to find ways to express ourselves that lift people up, rather than tear people down. We need to figure out how to learn from one another.
Away from the noisy media stream maybe we’ll find real people with stories and thoughts different from our own who can engage, inform and teach us. Maybe we’ll even go to Graceland.

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