Should we judge a person just according to the short and limited perspective we have of him or her? We see a person on the street, he might have lost his keys, just got fired or had a fight with his wife and all we get is that one moment watching him scream out loud on the subway platform. He might be a rich lawyer or a successful writer, a Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia or an lead guitarist in a famous rock band.
Regardless of his past, we might call him an idiot or a jerk because we saw one moment when he lost his temper... and we might be very wrong. Even if we think we are right, we most probably will not be.
Someone said that every life could be ours if we had experienced what they experienced. That doesn't excuse any rude behavior, but it does make the behavior somewhat logical from every perspective.
Everyone is an individual, very innocent in the beginning. Everyone is formed by their successes and misfortunes. To say it isn't so is to rob people, if they are obscurities or celebrities, of their humanity and diminish them to being things. Even Her Majesty the Queen cries and belches.
We tend to compartmentalize things, even people. That is the biggest problem with today's society. People say climate change, war and famine are the biggest issues. They are difficult symptoms. The origins are mental and spiritual. Unless we change that, our aims to omit the symptoms will be effortless.
You see, capitalism rules everything today. In the western world, the globe is at our fingertips. There are more smartphones being made today than there are people on the planet. 42 million plastic water bottles are produced a year. 153 billion animals are slaughtered for consumption yearly, 40 % of perfectly good groceries are thrown away by supermarket chains. That means that 61 billion animals are numbed, shot, shoved, shredded and disembowled in vain. For KFC, Burger King, Walmart and so on.
Now I hear you scream: "Hey, I knew it. This is an article by a militant frigging vegan. He's gonna take over the world. He hates me."
Nope, McDonald's has done that already, but you do realize that Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, has a net worth 130 billion dollars, more money than he could spend in a 100 lifetimes. Meanwhile, 65 children die of starvation every minute.
Now, you gotta admit something's wrong there.
"Wait a minute," I hear from the back row, "isn't this an article about prejudice? It's clearly marked on the box!"
Yes, but we have lost our modesty.
As I said, we compartmentalize everything, especially people. We treat them as investments. We invest in relationships, we even see them as stepping stones. And then we wonder why the divorce rates are high.
Celebrities are no less people just because they are famous. They were once non-famous, too. And what makes you less valuable than them? Because you are not famous or not famous enough?
If you go to the right places, you might see celebrities wander around the streets. Some famous German stars live in places like London and Florida. In Germany, they perform 12 concerts for a million people. In other countries, people will say: "Herbert Who?!" or "Otto Who?" or "Reinhard Who?..."
Ask a normal teenager today if they have heard of Elvis or The Beatles, they will probably say "No!"
Heck, I've even asked some if they know who A-ha are, and the answer was "No!" These 15 year-olds had probably heard the song "Take On Me" on the radio, but to actually know the group was going too far.
Prior to her big break in "Dynasty", Joan Collins was collecting unemployment money.
Who knows? The guy you were laughing at last Sunday, he rummaged in the back seat of his car, spitting some dirty words about excrements, he might be the leader of a huge firm. He might also be the doorman at Hotel Aurelia downtown.
The old couple chatting up people at the bus station, did you know they were Holocaust survivors, just by an inch escaping death in the gas chamber at age 7, because it didn't work. Then the Americans rescued the camp and they survived.
We all have a story to tell.
No story is less worthy than the other, because they are all real.
My point is not if these people are famous or not. My point is that we see these people for a second of their time. We see flashes of a life. We have no idea what brought them up to that moment. Neither should we then judge a painting of which we only see a small corner. The best thing we can do is to try to imagine ourselves being them, wearing their clothes, doing what they do and why, asking ourselves why they did what they did. Have you tried that with people who did you wrong? Maybe you will suddenly find out they weren't stupid idiots after all. Maybe they thought, wrongly, that they had to be afraid of you.
I have to be honest. My aim is always to be honest. I'm not a guy for small talk, never have been. If I say something, I want it to make sense. More importantly, I want to project what I believe to be true, what I have learned to be true.
I am very lucky, because I have the best of both worlds.
I have a steady job in the opera chorus, rehearsing and performing approximately 8 operas a year. On the side, I do a lot of stuff. Most people who know me also know this. Some don't. Most do. Some see it as a curiosity. To others, I am an authority. That's okay.
This, however, comes with a huge responsibility. It keeps me very open minded and that's the way I like it. I believe if we close our minds we close our lives and hearts.
I have a huge respect for everyone that works in the theatrical arts. A branch of work with 55 professions and endless nationalities. The people I work with are fine people.
Having said this, I also must quote a dear Belgian colleague who said: "A theater is not a democracy. It is a hierarchy."
Accordingly, this article about prejudice and preconceived conceptions has to include the theatrical workplace. Like all areas, theatres have shelves and departments. While they are necessary, they also limit our views. Just like with the aforementioned screaming man in the subway, they have nothing at all to do with reality.
Years ago, I had a costume fitting for some opera production in our 400 individuals and 55 different professions strong company. While the assistant marked the clothes I wore for changes, I conversed with the designer, telling her about a tenor in the chorus, a formerly successful soloist, who had fought as a soldier in the Vietnam War. She replied: "How does a Vietnam veteran end up as an opera chorister?"
My jaw dropped several inches.
The question seemed as redundant as "Does the Queen ever have to pee?" or "Why did Classical pianists like Neil Sedaka and Billy Joel become pop stars?" or "Are famous people always happy?"
If your definition of success is just how many likes you get, you are a sad person indeed. I guess that cuts out the guy who overcome cancer or the student who achieved his Master's Degree. Real success, like faith, is and has to be personal and not of this world. God is not religious religion is an interpretation of God. If success and hope and faith weren't personal perspectives, we would not be individuals at all, but machines.
I am confronted with prejudice every day, unfortunately too often in my workplace. Directors who don't explain the story singers are supposed to tell and then blame the singers for not telling the story. A theatrical CEO who just ignores the conversation someone is having with a successful performer and interrupts the less successful performer, literally blocking the view without excuses. A conductor ignoring the hello of the chorister, because, well, he's just a chorister, right? Bullshit chorus, just a group, not individuals.
Well, creativity escapes no one, even those who adamantly claim to have none.
Remember that these choristers, like all people, are professionals with several decades of experience behind them, people who, aside of their chorus job, are painters, composers, concert pianists, carpenters, artistic professors and concert soloists. Remember also that the opera chorus means acting, running, crawling, climbing, flying, jumping, quick changing clothes and loads of other things I will not mention here. 90 % of all of us are former soloists. Some of us still work as soloists in side gigs. So this horrid prejudice of "oh, they are just opera chorus" forgets the academic degrees and the solistic expertise as well as the personal story, which is the most important thing of all.
When I was a full time freelance musical performer, I had a problem with having to succumb to the prejudice of "we're all a big happy smiling family and if you're different, you suck".
So, yes, versatility, the ability to rock, opera, swing, direct, conduct, write and teach, is freedom, because it opens doors and keeps you humble. You have total respect for all sides, but are able to keep your distance, discretion, discipline and dignity.
I had an afternoon performance of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" a few years back. In the evening, I rehearsed with my big band for a solo concert at a festival. In one day, I visited two completely different universes: one where Wagner was everything and a second where jazz was everything. I was a guest in both worlds, but an expert in both. That made me feel good.
Is it usual for someone like me to be successful in several areas on the side while working in the opera chorus? No. Do people understand it? Not always. Does it matter? Not really.
Okay, but this is not about me.
This is about arrogance and the inability to think before speaking or wait before judging or be tolerant before complaining. Mainly, it's about accepting change or thinking outside the box. So something is not in my box. So I don't understand it. I can still take it seriously. After all, no man is an island.
Prejudice corrupts the world, because it ruins collaboration and starts wars. If there is no communication or collaboration, there cannot be a solution.
Prejudice is the real pollution here.
How is that possible, you ask?
Climate change is a real problem. Yes, but climate change is caused by people who don't stop the abuse. Why don't they stop abusing the world?
"Stop it," I hear you screaming.
"They're not stopping," you then add. "They're stupid."
Well, you have to remember that the reason people keep usurping and using up the world is a general gluttony of not ever getting enough. More, more, more. Bigger, faster, better than you. Mine is bigger. I'm more famous than you.
This usurpian gargantuan excess is not natural. It's like alcoholism. It covers up... something else. People are fleeing something.
A guy grabs his drinks and sleeps with three hundred women because that's the only place he thinks he can find happiness. He does it because he's always done it, cause his Dad did, sure, but he knows there are other ways, smarter ways, healthier ways.
Why doesn't he?
If he faced what he was afraid of, other people's anger, other people's fear, other people's threats, the unknown universe, death even, then he would maybe see that there was nothing to fear, because the other people are just afraid, too.
Our fears, doubts and worries unify us.
Ever heard of the Butterfly Effect?
Here's a Butterfly Effect that will blow your mind.
Hitler never ever entered a concentration camp. He was scared silly even of the dentist. He commanded his guys to kill from his desk in Berlin and then went on screaming from his podium before returning to his brandy. That was easy.
But basically he was just scared shitless of the Jews because some of them had humiliated him back in Vienna. He never bothered to confront those Jewish professors people who flunked and laughed at him in art class. If he had, he would have seen that these guys just thought he had to work on his technique. Or maybe these professors were envious of something he had that they didn't have.
"No, you're not better than me. I'll show you, I will!"
If Hitler had gone back and discussed this with the professors in art school, he would have seen they were no less people than him, just maybe prejudice against whatever made up thing it was they feared, but so was he. Afraid of something, I mean.
But he never went back, did he?
He carried this pain inside him for years, joined the army, swearing to take revenge at the Jewish race, thinking falsely that every other Jew was like those professors who flunked him. Of course they were not. But he never found out, because he never tried confronting his real problem.
Hitler even got wounded by a hand granade in the 1st World War because he was thinking too much about how to get back at these guys who had forgotten that they had insulted him or even that he existed.
So he became more and more prejudiced, gathering more and more people around him, almost forcing them to think like him, until one day he had enough people around him that at least pretended they did and enough power to pull the world into a massive war that killed 55 million people. All because of 5 guys at the Vienna Art School who didn't think he was good enough.
Why did not Hitler confront these guys in the first place?
Hitler was afraid to confront the original guys, so he commanded all his like-minded people to kill all the people who he thought were like the art professors. Without them the world would be a better place, he thought. He would create a world where everyone was the same, where no one was ever flunked.
It was based on something that did not exist. Prejudice. A figment of his imagination.
Prejudice is sheer and utter bullshit.
But people succumb to it because they are afraid of confrontation.
There are two emotions in the world and all others derive from those two.
Love and fear.
Imagine what would have happened if Hitler had confronted the art professors. Would we have a different world today?
Is my story completely historically accurate? That's not the point.
The point is that if we avoid to peacefully confront the core of something, not scream and yell, peacefully inquire and then let the reason why we are afraid go, if we make up stuff about why it happened instead of really finding out why - we csll that prejudice, it leads to alcoholism, drug abuse, sex addiction, adultery, cancer, diabetes, world war or endlessly gluttonous planetary abuse.
It is so simple that it is scary.
We are afraid of each other.
Don't be afraid of the other guy.
He's afraid, too.
You just gotta learn to solve the problem before he chooses to bring along his gun or set your house on fire.
I am not ending this here, though.
This might be the solution:
Start today by not complaining or judging. Commend or compliment someone for being great. Speak well of them behind their backs. I will repeat that: speak well of them behind their backs. It will make a big difference for them. Most of all, it will change your own mind. After all, if you want to change your life, change your mind.
Like Albert Schweizer, regard every soul you save as a pebble you pick up on a beach. Worthy of saving. It's not about saving the world.
If we all try to save bits and pieces, maybe together we can save the world.