I like to think of myself as a pretty durable guy. Nothing frightens me, outside of extreme heights and unexpected snake discoveries. I’m in good health, I don’t smoke and I don’t drink to excess. I’ve survived the usual gamut of illnesses, dodged some of the same darts we’ve all dodged and come through it all mostly unscathed.
But there’s one thing that wears me down and makes me tired, and it’s a difficult thing to avoid these days. This one thing is the vast sea of controversy that seems to engorge every news outlet, engulf every social media site and thwart even my efforts to keep up with friends on Facebook. Frankly, I’m sick of it, and you probably are, too.
I grew up watching the TV news with my dad, and I learned to read in the first grade by struggling through the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper. I remember Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley and Howard K. Smith delivering the news in a matter-of-fact manner. Editorial comments were clearly labeled as editorials. The newspaper had opinion on the opinion page, and the rest of the content was untainted by editorial preferences. Today, this utopian memory of news media past sounds like a fairy tale to those who have grown up in the age of social media.
In the age of social media, any Democrat interviewed seems to believe all Republicans are rich, fat, useless sacks of biological material. Any Republican interviewed seems certain all Democrats have similarly defined useless attributes. Conservatives have no use for liberals. Liberals have no use for conservatives. Libertarians suspect socialists cause hurricanes. Eco-warriors are sure that oil companies cause herpes. Everything is virulently black and white. Conversational gray areas don’t exist. There’s no longer any room for civil discourse. Our social settings seem to be filled with an endless stream of media-fueled dislike, distrust and controversy. Freely speaking one’s mind can lead to the dissolution of casual friendships. All of this seething vitriol makes me tired, and I find myself going out of my way to avoid the negativity that so freely spews into my little corner of the world. If this sounds familiar to you, read on.
Should we, as music retailers, care about the tiresome squabble-talk that permeates our society?
Yes. We should recognize that politics, religion and any other emotional hot-button topic that swirls through the cosmos beyond our doors needs to stop at our doors. Customers who come to our stores are looking for joy and relief, not controversy. They are looking for happiness, not strife. As music retailers, part of our job is to bring in every customer possible, while alienating no one. Music is a great healer and unifier, and our stores need to exude a sense of welcome, not potential strife.
Even in the most politically and socially homogenous areas, disparate opinions exist. As easily as people get offended today — your plaid shirt offends me, I’m going straight to Facebook so the world will know! — we need to take great pains to make sure everyone feels welcome in our stores. In-store discussions on emotional topics can turn off potential buyers. Letting candidates (even wildly popular ones) leave campaign cards on the counter can be seen as tacit support, and cause potential paying customers to not return.
Music stores need to be a welcoming place where everyone feels like they belong. Off-color jokes, gender jokes, political jokes and anything similar should be off-limits, for the well-being of the store and the comfort of its customers. Engaging customers in political discussions of any sort have the potential to cause some customers to leave and not return. Political signage of any sort will invite some customer to go elsewhere to shop.
Customers look forward to going places where there’s no controversy. Don’t believe that? There are plenty of people who don’t patronize Starbucks because they don’t want a social-justice lecture with their coffee. Droves of folks no longer watch the nightly TV news, because even the most “fair and balanced” broadcasts have an agenda.
After all, don’t we as music retailers consider our stores to be different from the rest of the retail herd? The public thinks we’re the cool kids, with the jobs everyone would like to have. We go out of our way to nurture that vibe, and we absolutely promote that our stores are the happy places to be … the oases of the mundane retail desert.
The world needs turmoil-free places like our stores, so take care that the music retail world (or at least the part we are responsible for) remains turmoil-free. TV, Facebook, newsfeeds and anywhere else people gather electronically are so divided and tension filled that folks who want that sort of emotional disarray have no problem filling their desires. They don’t have to get it from us. Personally, I have strong political opinions. Just ask my children. When I start to get wound up on a topic, their self-defense mechanism is to immediately ask, “So, how were things at the store today?”
I’m not suggesting we not take part in any social causes, but if we do get involved, let’s make sure it’s a cause only a complete whackjob would object to. Supporting the local animal shelter, collecting food donations for the food pantries, collecting blankets for the homeless shelter … these are great causes every right-thinking person will support. The Independent Music Store Owners group hosts a series of Strings For Food events each fall, just before Thanksgiving. NAMM hosts a fly-in to DC every year, to keep music education on the minds of our legislators. These social-cause events generate a lot of good will, and positive free media coverage. These sorts of events are important for keeping ourselves immersed in the cause of doing good for our communities, without alienating the paying public.
We’re music stores. Our planet is in a different orbit from the rest of the business universe. Let’s stay above the fray, and keep our stores a bright spot for all of our customers and friends.