My Playlist – and Yes, It Does Relate to Organizational Sustainability

My playlist:

  • Cheb Khalid – Oran وهران - A song about Cheb Khalid’s hometown of Oran in Algeria

  • Omaima Khalil – A bird came through the window عصفور طل من الشباك - A children’s song about a bird escaping from a cage and finding freedom

  • Enya – May It Be - A meditative prayer for success in the journey (composed for Lord of the Rings movies)

  • Phillip Glass – Metamorphosis - Solo piano

  • Karl Jenkins – Adiemus - Choral piece using European classical forms and African and Celtic-style melodies

  • Cheb Khaled – Aïsha - عايشة - French pop song written by singer-songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman

Many of these songs are about love in one way or another and in each case, my connection to them is love. I love the Arabic and French languages, not in a frivolous way but in a deep and committed way, where I am willing to make sacrifices and invest much time and effort in perfecting them. I discovered Cheb Khalid after returning from Syria and looking up songs online in order to keep learning Arabic. At one point I had memorized “Oran.” I discovered Omaima Khalil when I heard her sing at a concert in Berkeley with her father, the famous Lebanese composer and musician Marcel Khalife. I felt a great appreciation for Omaima because she sings so beautifully and with such control, and appears so modest. The children’s song I listed above is known throughout the Middle East and whenever I mention it, people smile with recognition, maybe even start to sing it. It is in Lebanese colloquial dialect, very similar to the Syrian colloquial Arabic I became familiar with in Syria.

In regards to Enya, I have loved her music all my life, after having been introduced to her by my parents. She is Irish, which is the part of my European heritage with which I identify the most. I performed in a dance piece choreographed to a section of Metamorphosis when I was a teenager, and besides that I’ve seen Glass’ music used as a backdrop for dance so many times – it creates a fascinating, vibrating fabric within which to create movement. “Aïsha” was one of those songs I listened to over and over again after I discovered it for myself, as if my ear could not get enough of it.

My point in describing the heart connection I have to these musical pieces is that real change requires that heart connection. Exporting a one-size-fits-all system to another part of the globe is not a solution for anything. Neither is imposing “best practices” on a situation without first getting to know it and questioning what responses might be best for it. As Professor Anne Campbell recently emphasized in her Education and Development class, we underestimate the importance of trust and human relationships in creating meaningful change. Projects where the “consultants” or the outsiders brought in to help implement the program actually know the local environment, and already have or can take the time to form meaningful connections with the other people involved, are by far the most successful.

“Aïsha” is sung by a man to a woman named Aïsha whom he wants to win over, though she ignores him. He offers her all kinds of gifts and riches, but she refuses, saying that she is worth more than that, that bars are bars even if made of gold, and that she wants the same rights and respect as he. This song could be related to organizational sustainability by saying that Aïsha’s voice is that of the stakeholder, the person who everyone is interested in but no one seems to fully understand. She clearly states what is best for her, but whether anyone listens is questionable. The more powerful always have the choice of listening – their life does not depend on listening to people with less power. It is interesting that in Cheb Khalid’s version, he added an additional stanza in Arabic in which he continues professing his love for Aïsha, saying she is the love of his life and that he would like to live with her. This stanza makes it sound like he did not really hear what she just said. A sustainable relationship might be possible if he recognized her true desires and changed his tune to suit her, but one guesses from the song that he will never win her over.

Most of these songs, while powerful, are on the quieter, slower side. This is the only type of music that is sustainable for me personally. Perhaps I have a sensitive nervous system, but I prefer melodic tunes and find loud and noisy music without clear, airy rhythms and melodies to be anxiety-producing, although I do enjoy an occasional session of something loud, just not all the time. I can relate this aspect of my preference in music to finding one’s niche, or to being the conservative hedgehog or the slow tortoise in a situation. While the fox and the hare have their place, not every organization can take that role because people need consistency and reliability over time. Additionally, while people can occasionally work frenetically, most of their time needs to be spent working calmly. Our nervous systems cannot handle a constant frenetic pace of work. Our health starts to break down if we go too long with an elevated heartbeat and shortened breath, our minds entirely focused on work and unable to notice our physical needs, especially that of rest. 

Finally, these songs have beautiful melodies. For me, the melody of a song is more important than the individual words making up the lyrics, if there are lyrics. In Metamorphosis, for example, the individual notes disappear into the rich fabric of tone and rhythm. I see the melody of a song as representing the whole picture or the overall patterns of the song. Likewise, it is important to see a situation as whole and to consider its overall patterns. This could apply to an organization deciding how to best fulfill its mission, or to an employee deciding how to implement a project successfully. Each effort needs to be negotiated within the overall situation of employee dynamics and roles within the organization or the full map of factors and actors who come together in negatively reinforcing or positively ameliorating some social problem. One could not expect to be successful by beginning with a firm notion of what needs to be done and how, without stepping back and considering how the project could fit into the overall ecosystem. By viewing the situation as a whole one is less likely to be shocked and blindsided by setbacks and unexpected problems. One would see the need to get to know the other pieces of the puzzle, even those that aren’t directly relevant to the project.

In conclusion: it is quite possible that there is nothing that cannot be used to illustrate an aspect of organizational or organism–ational sustainability.

Originally written on March 18, 2017 for a graduate course on organizational sustainability.