I always wonder if humanity still exists in our once innocent society. It seems that as technology advances with each passing day, our ingenuousness deteriorates alongside. We hide behind a backlit screen and meticulously molds an image of popular demand. We wear a mask when conducting face-to-face conversations and those who speak their hearts are classified as a rare species, and those who fulfill what they speak of have gone nearly extinct because the multitude prohibits nonconformity.
Growing up in China, I was imbued with the notion of “communism good, capitalism bad”. As a little girl I admired the soldiers in green uniforms and the sparkly prospect the Five-Star Red Flag represents. From all the stories told by my elders, I learned that Mao Zedong was the reverend and amiable leader who salvaged the Chinese people from the sea of misery and suffering due to the capitalistic imperialism. The approach he utilized in succeeding, however, was only discussed in an ambiguously worded collection called “The Little Red Book”. Looking back at it, I would have reasonably concluded that as a leader of an industrially underdeveloped country, to say that all Mao Zedong ever achieved was successful is logically unperceivable and contradictory. However, it was not until the second year after moving to the United States at the age of 14 when I took AP European History that I commenced questioning the veracity and validity of communism.
As I befriended my European History teacher through a common fondness for coffee thus I convinced her to put a coffee maker in the classroom, we began having deeper conversations ranging from topics in class to my volleyball or basketball game schedules. One day during lunch we started discussing the facts of cold war, but it quickly stretched to the essence of communism. Since I have the first-hand experience with this monstrous entity the western media portrays, I expressed my point of view on the Great Leader Mao Zedong. She was awfully surprised to find out that I spoke of nothing but honorable things of him. Then, the revelation of truth: certainly not reverend or amiable, Mao Zedong is, in fact, a ruthless and vindictive dictator. An estimate of 49 to 78 million people’s lives were strangled by his hands through various programs such as the Great Leap Forward, the four cleanups movement, and the 100 flowers movement ? horrifying but unfamiliar terms. My whole belief was shaken by this disclosure, yet at the same time, I was also enthralled by the truth.
I contemplated about Mao Zedong’s approach to success. How did he delude a whole nation to believe in his cautiously falsified, philanthropic image? I asked my elders and parents about their childhood memories and derived the answer: propaganda. Red and yellow themed posters, Red Army songs, communism exclusive broadcast … a crafty construction of propaganda helped him succeed in manipulating the crowd.
Despite the anguish and disdain, I managed to learn from Mao Zedong an exceedingly skillful technique of leadership: the implementation of the art as a mean to tackle the inner spirit of myriad. He disguised his vicious intentions behind the pastels and melodies, used them to justify the irrevocable consequences, sadly proving the effectiveness of art. But what if someone was to use it for a more humane cause?
Hence, I put my thoughts into the educational field and the development of future leaders, who I anticipate to bring about a fundamental improvement in the standard of social conduct.
It is widely believed that people edified by art exhibit greater humanity and compassion. The mission of an educator is to instill knowledge in students as well as nurturing their souls. Without tenderness in their hearts, their people become highly intelligent robots rather than humans capable of emotional decency.
Historically speaking, art has been the most wondrous and captivating tool of manipulation, wealthy merchants like the Medici family in the 1400s patronized talented artists to show their social status, religious institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church purchased art to awe the plebeian, but nowadays we see a clearer trend of which most people associate art forms with the desire to express, the desire to voice, and the desire to make a statement; and such desire can be satisfied through music, dance, paintings — anything. What is important is not the medium, but the message it conveys. Since every piece of artwork has an inimitable touch by its creator, the appeal and the message most definitely differ from person to person. So it is logical to conclude that art, instead of being a uniting force, should be a dividing one.
Why, then, do arts play such a decisive role in education and leadership? People, especially young people, try to carefully fathom what others consider virtuous and vile by examining contemporary art because we lack the sense of direction. From textbooks and tales, we learn that artworks are indicators of the society’s current state. For example, the baroque style arose in the 17th century during the time period of Protestant Reformation as a result of the Council of Trent: the Catholic Church’s effort to counter the new denomination. While Protestants call for the simplicity of church affairs due to economic stress placed on the commoners, Roman Catholic Church argued for the greatness and omnipotence of the Almighty, expressing this notion by overwhelming the beholders into greater piety with the grandiosity characterizing Baroque paintings, usually on the domes of the cathedrals.
Not only do they provide people with a sense of direction, and arts also have the ability to motivate people. Less experienced and arguably weaker minded, teenagers are prone to turn to others for advice when they encounter obstacles and disappointments. This era of technology has made people more introverted, indecisive and insecure, making that process substantially harder than it may seem, sometimes resulting in their loss of faith and motivation; but this era has also galvanized a new wave of artists — a new wave of visionaries, of leaders, to express and voice, to make a statement.
These leaders are students, teenagers, with talent and ambition. By overcoming the task of an artist, such as learning a difficult vocal technique or dancing posture, confidence multiplies — and we all know how important confidence is to a leader. However, as leaders, they do not necessarily have to generate original artistic contents, although it does intrigue curiosity, merely utilizing them stands as a state of art nonetheless. Art rises above the crowd as the absolute favorite by society. Afterall you do see more headphones than cars — 316.4 million more specifically. Not because it has an overwhelmingly greater charisma than technology, but because it is easily accessible and also easily understood without additional context —you can understand the emotions of a composition, whether calm or vehement, without going to an academy of music, but you cannot grasp the meaning of code lines without a thorough understanding of the binary system.
Undoubtedly, not all individuals were born leaders. To most people, it is much easier to just passively follow instructions than actively planning strategies. But all individuals can be leaders. With appropriate assessment and application, music and arts ought to be the most relevant appliance of leadership, the most approachable outlet of emotion, and the most majestic expression of humanity.