Thursday, December 19, 2013

Life in the Lyrics: “Follow Your Arrow”

"If you save yourself for marriage you're a bore,
if you don't save yourself for marriage you're a whore-able person. 
If you won't have a drink then you're a prude, 
but they'll call you a drunk as soon as you down the first one. 
If you can't lose the weight then you're just fat, 

but if you lose too much then you're on crack. 
You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't, 
so you might as well just do whatever you want, so…

Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys 
or kiss lots of girls if that's something you're into. 
When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight 
roll up the joint, or don't. 
Just follow your arrow wherever it points, 
yeah, follow your arrow wherever it points.

If you don't go to church you'll go to hell, 
if you're the first one on the front row you're a self-righteous son of a - 
 Can't win for losing; you just disappoint 'em; 
just 'cause you can't beat 'em don't mean you should join 'em.

Say what you feel, love who you love, 
'cause you just get so many trips 'round the sun, 
yeah, you only live once."
- Kasey Musgraves

The talented Kasey Musgraves first caught my ear with “Blowin’ Smoke,” a clever and poignant song about people who rarely follow through on any of the noble plans they have for their lives. The overriding metaphor has to do with smoking – people say they are going to quit someday, but they’re just blowin’ smoke.  It’s a great tune.

According to her popular single “Follow Your Arrow,” this desire to embrace a purposeful life of health is something you should definitely do. Or not. It doesn't really matter. “Follow Your Arrow” highlights sexual lifestyles, the use of addictive substances, religious beliefs, and choices about whom we should love as areas in which we ought to do whatever we want, because, you know, YOLO.

This song affirms a generally true principle: just because we upset people doesn’t mean their judgment of us is justified. That’s fine, but it doesn’t follow that everything we do is above reproach. What if I pirate all of Ms. Musgrave's  music? What if I rob her house or steal her identity? Can I follow my arrow there?  Somewhere, there has to be room for someone to make a reflective judgment ("the formation of an opinion after consideration or deliberation") about the trajectory of a person's life.
  • One of my friend's alcoholism has cost him his job, two marriages, custody of his kids, and his health. Last time I talked to him, he was in the hospital because his body was shutting down. He’s in his thirties.
  • A popular tutor in our town was recently arrested after multiple teenage girls told their school principal that the tutor had sent them very inappropriate messages and at times engaged in sexual contact. 
  • A former high school classmate gave in to her boyfriend's persistence that they begin having sex. After several weeks, he told her that she didn’t excite him anymore. She was distraught; she had given him everything, and he was bored. He moved on to the next girl while she tried to pick up the pieces of her broken self-worth, dignity and trust.
  • A couple was arrested recently for the horrific abuse of a boy they conceived with the help of a surrogate mother. From the time the boy was two weeks old until he was ten, he was taken around the world to be abused and filmed for child pornography sites.  
Is “Well, they followed their arrow!” really the best we have to offer in response to situations like this? I’m not suggesting Ms. Musgraves is advocating these things in any sense of the word. I’m just looking at the incomplete worldview in the song. “The straight and narrow was just a little too straight” will not defend the perpetrators in court or heal the damage done to the victims who bear the brunt of someone else's selfish trip around the sun. Whoever shot their brutal arrows at these unfortunate victims ought to walk toward their mangled target with contrition and humility, preparing themselves for the social, civil or legal consequences while praying that the victims can find healing and hope.

Hamlet said to a friend he wronged, “I have shot mine arrow o'er the house, and hurt my brother.” There’s the rub. Not all arrows are well shot. In order to live a good life  –  to shoot an arrow that deserves to be followed – we need a well-grounded foundation that informs our perspective on what it means to virtuous and honorable. We need to wrestle with the deeper questions of morality and ethics:  Are our goal good? Are the means by which we achieve these goal justifiable? Are our motives pure?

Ms. Musgrave is correct in one sense: we follow the arrows we choose to shoot. Yes, many things in life influence us, but at the end of the day we pull our choices from the quiver; we draw back the string; we aim our lives and shoot at …. well, something. The arrow will always find a target, and our steps will inextricably lead us there. Surely this is a reminder to aim well instead of simply firing however we please and then staggering toward whatever we happen to hit. .

Our lives have an impact.  The arrows of our choices have consequences. We might be entertained as we sing the songs that tell is it's all good, but we’re just blowin’ smoke.

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