I have a very good friend who passes along canned e-mails. I am one who actually enjoys them, especially since she tends to pass along those that are inspirational or have some valuable life lesson. One of her last e-mails just about floored me and had me thinking for days. You may have seen it. It was about a street violinist playing in a busy subway. The e-mail cataloged his hour that he played. He had very few people stop and enjoy him. After his hour playing he earned $32. And when he was done, nobody seemed to notice, nobody applauded.
So the point here is that this was no ordinary street musician. The man was Joshua Bell, a well known violinist. He was playing a violin that was worth millions of dollars. The kicker for me was that two days prior to his subway gig, he had performed at a sold out show in Boston where the average ticket cost $100! The whole situation was a setup or rather, an “experiment” by a newspaper. Whether this story is true or not, for me, the moral is very important. There were several theories about why the people in the subway treated him differently there, than when he was in his up-scale lifestyle. I am willing to bet however, that a huge factor was class stereotyping. People don’t expect a famous well-to-do person to perform in the low-class’ stage known as the dirty subway.
Even though I try very hard not to stereotype, I know I do it to some extent. I remember watching a similar experiment on TV years ago. I was so embarrassed with my reaction. They had a young man dressed in tattered, baggy, grungy clothes. The audience’s task was to think about how we felt about that person. The next scene was a clean-cut man dressed in a business suit with a nice briefcase. Again, the task was to think about the man. It turned out that the two men were actually one in the same, just wearing very different outfits. The quick experiment worked on me. I viewed the first guy as a thug, and the second as a safe, good guy. I was left astounded with myself. How could have I felt that way? How on earth did I become so shallow?
I think that it is human nature to judge people a little bit, but the lesson here is that we should think before we judge people by just their looks. Really, when you think of it, we are all the same. We are all human. It doesn’t matter if we choose to wear wierd clothes, sport strange haircuts, and are not elite business people because deep down, we are all one of the same… just like the man in the TV experiment.