The United States Marine Corps has a definitive list of fourteen leadership traits that recruits must adhere to for as long as they’re enlisted, preferably for as long as they live. There’s a handy acronym for them too: JJ DID TIE BUCKLE, and either of the Ds can stand for decisiveness.
Decisiveness is not the ability to make a good decision; that’s one of the Js, judgement. It’s your ability to make a decision at all. Weighing options carefully with a clear head is ideal in nearly all circumstances. A high-pressure high-stakes combat situation is an emphatic exception. It doesn’t matter how clear your head is when a bullet flies through it. So decide. Left or right? Are we staying here or moving over there? I just got shot in the chest, what do we do? No time to consider all angles, just pick. As I’ve heard one Marine officer put it, the worst decision you could make is deciding to do nothing.
I make music. Any artist, regardless of medium, knows how difficult it can be to finish a piece. There’s always one more take you could do of your vocals, one more tweak in the mix. One more drop of paint on the cloud, one more length of footage to cut, one mroe typo to fix. It’s because there’s no finish line. No progress bar that fills to exactly 100%, greenlighting your release. There’s no finishing a work of art: you just decide to stop touching it.
I make music in a very specific way. I make rap music that touches on a variety of subjects, highbrow to lowbrow, academic to immature. The only reason I can rap about so many things from so wide of a range is because I’ve zeroed in on the practice of mentioning. I don’t say I “talk about” all these subjects, I don’t “explain” or “tackle” them. I happen upon a subject I’d like to include in my work, and learn just enough about it (some YouTube videos, an article or two), until I can mention it on record without feeling like I’m lying. Then I move on.
If judgement were king, sensible soldiers would die senseless deaths, artists would be forever editing and never publishing, and I’d have a Ph.D in five different disciplines, with no creative work to show for it.
In my song aye!, I stumbled into a rhyme playing on the word ‘vessel’, working with the double meaning of ‘vessel’ as ship and ‘vessel’ as circulatory channel. It being a darker song vibe-wise, things steered toward blood vessel diseases, and the words “hemorrhage” and “vasculopathic” cropped up, words I wasn’t sure I knew the meaning of. Did I go to medical school to ensure the accuracy of these lyrics? No. If my aim were to save lives, I would have. But my aims as a rapper require nothing more than a surface-level understanding. For my purposes, simply knowing that these words weren’t wildly out of place here was enough, enough for me to put out the song and get back to work.
If judgement were king, sensible soldiers would die senseless deaths, artists would be forever editing and never publishing, and I’d have a Ph.D in five different disciplines, with no creative work to show for it. If judgement were everything, you and your friends would spend hours trying to figure out where to go eat, pro-ing and con-ing Pizza Hut, comparing and contrasting Chinese food and Thai food, gaining genuine insight at each turn, until you finally tire yourselves out and never go anywhere.
And then one of your friends is like, “Y’know what? We’re going to the mall,” and she grabs her coat and starts walking to the door. Now it’s not a discussion about what our next step should be; it’s about what we should do now that our next step has already been taken. The difference between the former and the latter is stepping. Doing. Deciding.
Another situation where weighing options clearheadedly isn’t very helpful is in a negative situation that clearheaded option-weighing got you into. Wow, thinking about things super deep has really dug us into a hole, how do we get out? I know! Let’s think even deeper! Hey yeah! I love doing the same thing over and over again! Alright guys, y’know what? I’m just gonna stop thinking and try to climb this vertical wall with my bare hands. What? That makes no sense! Have you even thought abou- No.
It’s about enoughness. When it comes to learning new things, I am insatiable; I can never know enough about the world. But on top of that ultimate insatiability is room to manufacture some personal finish lines for satiety. Although the core of me will never be satisfied with my understanding of contemporary culture, and that dissatisfaction will continue to propel me healthfully into deeper inquiry, I’m going to arbitrarily impose a restriction on that inquiry in the name of fulfilling a set purpose. I now know enough to finish that song. I now know enough to lead my team through gunfire to a potential safe zone. I now know enough to stop talking about the world’s problems and start solving them.
Thinking. Is not. Doing.
Time to be nomads.