Creative people who share their views are often shunned. The Dixie Chicks come to mind as a great example of a group of singers who spoke their minds and had their careers nearly destroyed for speaking their minds on political issues.
What results is that anyone with a creative career such as musicians, movie stars, artists and performers have to think twice about whether they want to take the heat for expressing views that may go against their fans views.
When dissident artist Ai Weiwei had a photo taken of himself in the same position and on the same beach where the body of the refugee child Alan Kurdi was found, he was berated and told he was a fool and disrespectful for having the image taken, even though the image opened a dialogue about the refugee crisis that Ai wanted to encourage with the image.
To me, this is exactly what creative people SHOULD be doing. Not taking cover and running when the subject matter becomes tough.
The photo at the top of the page was taken through a small crack in an ancient tomb dated sometime around 1898. But even after all this time the spine of the original occupant is still clearly seen while most other traces have long since fallen to dust. Other tombs I've photographed show me the same thing time and time again. The spine is the strongest.
I suppose that why they say "grow a spine". It means get strong. It means taking a stand for what we feel is right and good in the world.
There was a time in my life when I would not have understood that. I did not have much of a spine when I was younger. I grew strong with age and knowledge and the fine honing of the talents within me. In my youth when someone told me to grow a spine, I would be hurt and upset and feel weaker rather than stronger. Now I understand that strength isn't just a physical thing. Its about a resiliency and the strength to speak out at the injustices of the world.
The problem is that a lot of people when they do grow a spine in exchange lose all their compassion in exchange. They become a hard shell where nothing penetrates. Strength that comes with compassion serves to teach rather than to berate.
Unfortunately many creative folk don't grow a spine. "My work sells, so why should I bother?" is often heard. "Its not my problem."
Recently the Young Turks ran a segment about some comments Rapper Lil' Wayne made about Black Lives Matter in an interview. (View the Segment here). His total disregard for anyone except himself and the money he is making is exactly what is wrong with the world.
We as artists and creatives have a certain obligation to lead with our spines and not just collect our rewards. Artists like Ai Weiwei are rare. They care about the world around them and they push the envelope to make points about how we treat each other as human beings. Its sad that there aren't more of us doing the same.
If more of us grew a spine and compassionately spoke out through our various arts the world would be a much changed place. Perhaps a much better place I'd like to think.
Use the voice you have. Use it wisely. The spine you grow now will long outlast you as will the creative gifts you leave behind you.