Where’s the Orchestra?

The other day I took my lady love out for dinner — we wound up at Jason’s Deli, which used to be one of our favorite fast-food joints. And there I experienced an epiphany which I feel compelled to share in these troubled times.

It came from a trio of young boys, part of a large family outing seated some distance away from us. All three wore matching T-shirts, the backs of which proclaimed that they were band members, and they passed our booth many times on their trips to and from the soft-serve machine.

Emblazoned on the fronts of their shirts were the words “Divided by sections, United in harmony.”

That thought struck a chord with me; while I’ve never been a professional musician, I’ve loved music and its techniques for some eight decades now. It’s a perfect description of a successful orchestra, or band, or pickup group jamming in the wee hours at some low-life bar. Even during a classic N’Awlins cutting contest, the various sections unite in harmony toward the goal of a greater good.

It’s also, I’m convinced, a recipe that’s needed for our nation’s culture.

Imagine, if you can, a symphony orchestra in which the percussion session plays Stravinsky while the strings follow a score by Debussy, the woodwinds follow Bartok, and the brass remains sulkily seated and quiet, until erupting with the loudest Pete Rugulo fanfares they can accomplish, drowning out even the tympani.

I didn’t think you would be able to, but that’s what I’m hearing these days from Facebook posts and the mass media.

Elsewhere, I’ve noted my longtime observation that we humans seem to follow the Pareto principle in developing our personalities, our beliefs, and our attitudes. This principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) was first noted more than 100 years ago, and states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

The principle seems to apply to many vastly different situations: 80% of problems can be attributed to 20% of causes, 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers, and also 80% of a company’s complaints come from 20% of its customers. It appears to be universally applicable.

My own application of the principle is intended to exercise what small amount of control I am permitted regarding my relationship to the rest of the human race: I’ve split the 20% in half, and assert that 10% of people are true saints, 10% are evil incarnate, and the remaining 80% are simply mirrors that reflect back to me exactly what I expect them to be.

That means that if I expect evil, then 90% of the folk I encounter will be that — but if I can expect saintliness, then that will be what 90% become, and I’ll see only 10% as truly evil.

More importantly, it means that I have much more control over my life than I would otherwise experience.

If we seek out harmony and reject the divisiveness that has become so prevalent, the very least we can expect is to be freer of the “fight or flight” stress that is tearing our culture to shreds. At best, we can be better than ever before.

Remember this: every musical group is divided by sections, but it requires ALL of them to become united in harmony. Let’s give it a try!