Each One, Teach One
In high school, I drove my Ford Escort GT through the streets of Bomb City with the seat back. The above-indicated photo isn’t deceptive, because I allowed myself approximately six inches of visibility from the top of my dashboard.
Remarkably, I didn’t cause an accident when driving in such a reckless manner. However, on my way to school one morning, another motorist totaled my vehicle when she slammed into the back of my car.
The responding police officer made a joke, something to the effect of, “She hit you pretty hard, because both front seats dropped down to the backseat.” I suspect that he understood the urban trend of riding around town with the seat back.
Knowledge of the fad was instilled to me from my gang-related friends, who’d learned the craze from people older than them. Word-of-mouth instruction was common back then, often facilitated through the medium of rap.
In fact, throughout the ‘90s, “each one, teach one” was an oft-quoted aphorism within hip hop. Per one source:
The phrase Each One, Teach One is an African proverb that originated in the United States during slavery when Africans were denied education. When someone learned how to read or write, it became their responsibility to teach someone else. The idea is to spread knowledge for the betterment of your community.
I understood the adage to relate to matters people considered positive, neutral, and negative. For instance, teaching others about the five elements of hip hop was considered a positive action geared towards increasing awareness about the subculture.
Teaching individuals about hip hop dance was a largely neutral endeavor. However, teaching people about intergenerational continuity in gang membership was viewed negatively, because doing so perpetuated cycles of violence.
As a kid, all I wanted was to kill a man
Be like my daddy’s friends, hopping out that minivan
Chrome 38s spinning like a ceiling fan
Crying on my momma’s phone, swearing he a different man
Talking to me monotone, hardly ever coming home
Knew he was the villain, never been a fan of Superman
Beatin’ on my momma, in the kitchen screaming:
“Bitch, you better listen when I speak my mind!”
Used to think he was unbreakable, he did fed time
But made sure a nigga plate was full and I shined
Was walking in the first day of school, new J’s and all of that
Football was cornerback, never made a game, I played for Compton High
But my daddy was the man, that would be suicide
Picked me up from visitation in the newest ride
Always told me that he loved me, fuck his foolish pride
As a kid, all I wanted was to kill a man
Staples describes the chaos of his upbringing and how despite it all he admired his dad and his father’s friends. Rather than each one teaching one about how not to behave, Staples begins and ends his verse describing a desire to terminate a life.
When thinking about this verse through the lens of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I’m reminded of two quotes from the individual who originated this psychotherapeutic modality, Albert Ellis. For the first quote, Ellis reportedly stated:
The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.
I consider this citation as empowering to those who would otherwise embrace a victimhood narrative in relation to their upbringing. As a child, Staples apparently learned that violence was acceptable and rather that thinking critically about that lesson—and I don’t blame a child for being unable to do so—he presumably accepted his social education at face value.
In particular, REBT proposes that actions we experience in life do not lead to emotional, physical, or behavioral consequences—forming an Action-Consequence connection. As such, a child witnessing the behavior of an abusive parent isn’t what causes fury towards others.
Rather, REBT maintains that we disturb ourselves with our beliefs about the actions we experience—creating a Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection. Therefore, a child observes a hostile parent and assumes this is how a person should, must, or ought to behave, and this unhelpful belief leads to a detrimental consequence.
This model of psychotherapy values personal responsibility and accountability. When we realize that we disturb ourselves with unproductive beliefs, we can then do something productive to alter our outcomes. Addressing this point, the second Ellis quote relates to when he ostensibly stated:
Just because people do not like adversity, they decide that it should not exist. They say, “You disturbed me,” or, “It disturbed me,” or, “My mother disturbed me” – They won’t accept responsibility for their own disturbance. They refuse to accept the way it is. And then they get depressed about their depression. They rage about their rage. They’re screwballs.
To further illustrate the B-C connection, consider the second verse of “Nate”:
As a kid, all I wanted was a hundred grand
Uncle counting money while my daddy cut them grams
Made me promise that this shit would never touch my hands
And it never did, said it’d make me be a better man
Smoking in the crib, hiding dip inside of soda cans
Black bandana on his arm, needle in his hand
Momma trying to wake him up, young, so I ain’t understand
Why she wouldn’t let my daddy sleep, used to see him stand
Out in the alley through my window
Lights flashing, now he running from the Winslow’s
Hear him screaming for my momma at the backdoor
Sometimes she wouldn’t open it, sitting on the couch
Face emotionless, I don’t think they ever noticed that I noticed it
As a kid, all I wanted a hundred grand
Though not as drastic as the desire to kill a man, Staples describes wanting to make money after learning from those who taught him through their demonstrated behavior. This isn’t to suggest that every child who witnesses criminal money-making activities will seek to emulate similar actions.
For instance, when hanging out with my gang-affiliated friends who acted as street pharmacists, I didn’t serve with my homies. All the same, each one taught one back then and I learned to ride ‘round the city with the seat back. Regarding this, the chorus of “Nate” is:
‘Cause my daddy did it, eyes bloodshot
With the Caddy tinted, fuck handouts
Fuck the county building, never seen that
Catch him riding ‘round the city with the seat back
With the seat back, with the seat back
Catch him ride ‘round the city with the seat back
With the seat back, with the seat back
Catch him ride ‘round the city with the seat back
By the time I replaced my destroyed Ford Escort GT with a BMW 325i, I continued to practice what I was taught by keeping my blue plush velour-lined seats back. My choice of vehicles was neutral, my decision to devote time to dangerous companions was negative, and the lesson I’ve learned about that phase of my life is positive.
Now, I use “each one, teach one” to influence the lives of others. Herein, I’ve demonstrated how this is done through personal anecdote, REBT principles, and rap music.
We needn’t resort to beliefs of victimhood associated with the actions we experience, because we have choices in life. Whether we want to kill a man, make a hundred grand, or ride ‘round the city with the seat back, we can choose helpful outcomes when faced with unhelpful circumstances.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As the world’s foremost old school hip hop REBT psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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