A Man Who Refused to Judge: Carlo Maria Giulini

41mriZX8V5L._SS500_

This is a story about a musician, but not about music. It is about you and me and especially all the loud voices in today’s world who not only claim to know what is right and what is wrong, but who is right and who is wrong. Most particularly, it is about a great man who had every right to judge someone else, but chose not to. I’m talking about the famous Italian conductor of symphony and opera, Carlo Maria Giulini.

Who was Giulini and what gave him that right? Born in 1914, Carlo Maria Giulini would become the Music Director of La Scala, Milan; Principal Guest Conductor of the Chicago Symphony (1969-1973) and the Music Director of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (1973-1976). But it was much earlier in Rome that he played as an orchestral violist under the German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954), as well as many other great conductors; and it was Furtwängler who Giulini refused to judge. Not as a musician, but as a man — a man in the middle — between the Nazi state that ruled his homeland and his conscience.

images

Furtwängler remains a controversial figure to this day for choosing to stay in Germany during the Third Reich (1933-1945). His celebrity would have guaranteed him important positions throughout the world. But, while evidence indicates that he did assist some Jewish musicians in the Nazi bullseye, he also allowed himself to be used as a propaganda tool by the government. Never having joined the Nazi party, he was seen as vaguely disloyal by some within Germany, but just another morally compromised German by some outside of it.

Giulini had his own set of moral dilemmas. Although drafted into the Italian Army that was allied with Germany, he and his two brothers, Steno and Alberto, made a pact not to kill:

We would not serve as Mussolini’s (the Italian dictator’s) agent to take anyone’s life, even if it cost us our own. (As a second lieutenant) when my men were fired upon, I had to appear to respond, so I would draw my pistol and fire high above their heads. One of my brothers (Steno) was in Russia with the Italian ski troops. His situation was horrible, with cold and snow and the constant attacks of the Russians, but he never loaded his rifle.

Even this stance proved inadequate to the circumstances that Giulini faced. In Yugoslavia, the Italian Army was confronted with partisan attacks and began to engage in revenge missions against innocent civilians. Before long, after the Allied invasion of Italy, Italy formally switched sides in the war — but not Giulini’s unit, which was ordered to stand with the Nazis in defense of Rome against the advancing U.S. Fifth Army. Giulini defected.

줄리니_cu0625

It was late 1943 and Giulini now found himself a wanted man, his postered name and face to be seen with the direction to “shoot on sight.” For the next nine months Giulini, two comrades, and a Jewish family hid in a tunnel below his uncle’s house in Rome. Newly married, his wife Marcella and Italian resistance fighters provided supplies. It was Marcella who gave him the library copies of orchestral scores that he studied by candlelight and that they hoped he might eventually conduct if he survived.

On June 5, 1944 the Allies succeeded in liberating Rome. Thomas Saler, the author of Serving Genius: Carlo Maria Giulini, whose book is the source of much of the wartime background presented here, describes the scene:

After word reached him that the city had been liberated, Giulini climbed out of his underground hideaway and stepped outside. It was the first time in nine months that he saw the light of day and breathed the fresh air. Overcome with emotion, he walked to a nearby tree and kissed it.

Giulini was owed a four-year-old debt by Rome’s Santa Cecilia Orchestra as a result of having won the right to conduct it in a contest before war intervened. Thus, on July 16, 1944 he led his first ever concert — the concert that celebrated the liberation of Rome.

On March 18, 1978 I had the chance to interview the now legendary maestro. This elegant and charming man, polite and dignified, responded deftly to musical questions at the outset of our time together. That is, until I asked him about his opinion of Furtwängler’s decision to stay in Germany and the latter’s wartime behavior. He was not prepared for my question. I was not prepared for his response.

Giulini’s demeanor changed. While he was not impolite, I’d touched a nerve. He began by putting me in my place: “You are very young.” I was 31, he was 63. Giulini continued:

It is very, very difficult to judge the position of a man. It is difficult for you in American to understand the problems we had in Europe. It is difficult to put yourself in a position, in a special moment (in history) that is impossible to imagine if you didn’t live in that time. The last thing I should do is express my position on this point. I had my personal political position, I took my position — very precise. I was not a fascist, and at the moment I had to make a strong decision, and also a dangerous decision, I took it. But I am not in a position to do any criticism of another person.

The conversation continued, but it was clear that the subject of Wilhelm Furtwängler was closed. In that instant, I had seen the man who some called “the steel angel,” both because of his ever-present respect for people, including the musicians he conducted, and his backbone. He was every bit of both.

Giulini conducted his final concert with the CSO that evening. He would now be off to Los Angeles to take up the last major post of his career, as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Unfortunately, his wife’s sudden and chronically debilitating illness a few years later ended Giulini’s American career in 1984. He returned to Europe, never again leaving his Milan home except for a few days at a time to guest conduct, so as not to be away from Marcella for extended periods. His formal career ended in 1998 and he died in 2005.

Giulini is said to have been a well-read man, but I don’t know if he knew the Stoic philosophers like Epictetus. It was the philosophy of Epictetus that U.S. Navy Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale credited with helping him survive while he was a prisoner in Hanoi during the Vietnam War. Over his seven-and-a-half years in enemy hands, Stockdale was tortured 15 times, in solitary confinement for over four years, and in leg irons for two. In other words, another man who, like Giulini, had every right to judge.

James_Bond_Stockdale

In a 1995 lecture to the student body of the Marine Amphibious Warfare School, Stockdale quoted Epictetus:

Where do I look for the good and the evil? Within me, in that which is my own. But for that which is another’s never employ the words “good” or “evil,” or anything of the sort.

“Goods and evils can never be things others do to you, or for you,” Stockdale concluded.

Giulini would have understood.*

*For an entirely different perspective on Furtwängler’s wartime conduct, see this brief video interview of Jascha Horenstein, the great conductorial associate of Furtwängler: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnXn9wwQeXQ

My gratitude to my friends Tom Saler and John Kain, the latter for alerting me to the existence of the Stockdale lecture. The photo of Vice Admiral Stockdale came from the U.S. Defense Visual Information Official Site, as downloaded to Wikimedia Commons by Darz Mol.

“You Should Always Have Enough ‘F**k You’ Money:” Relationship Power in Politics and Life

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a5/David_Frost_Rumsfeld_interview.jpg/500px-David_Frost_Rumsfeld_interview.jpg

My apologies for the profane title. There is just no delicate way to get this idea across, as the musician Larry Adler knew when he first wrote it.

What he was trying to say was, unless you are able to do what you want despite the personal or financial cost, you really don’t have as much power as you might think.

More about Mr. Adler later.

But for now, take a look at the above 2005 photo of journalist David Frost (on the left) and Donald Rumsfeld, then U.S. Secretary of Defense, as an example of what Adler was talking about. I imagine you can guess who is in control of this interview — who has the power.

In order to be successful, a reporter must have access to the people who make the news. And, if politicians find you to be too aggressive in your questioning, they will go elsewhere. In this relationship, the politician usually has more power.

This tells us why so many TV political reporters seem incapable of pursuing answers to the tough questions that need to be put to politicians; indeed, why the tough questions often go unasked.

The truth is, they are not incapable, they are simply unwilling and hesitant. Afraid of being cut off from access.

Why? Because unlike the politician they wish to interview, they cannot go elsewhere to tell their story. That gives the politician more power.

Power also explains much else about relationships; that is, who is in charge, regardless of who might appear to have the upper hand.

I’ll get to your relationships later in this post.

But first let me address the connection between politicians and members of the news media in greater depth.

Understanding this might help you understand your own life.

Let’s start with a few premises. Most TV and radio interviewers are not well-known. Their ability to obtain interviews with the most prominent people in the world depends on the good will of those people. And, there are many, many more interviewers than there are people in positions of power.

So let’s say that you’re a low-level reporter, a man of small reputation, who wants to talk with a congressman on TV. You start by asking a question and get in response the politician’s well-rehearsed talking points on the subject, which are not likely to precisely address the query.

Perhaps the politician says, “The American people want X.” Do you challenge this? Do you say, “Well, Congressman, according to the last five polls we have on this subject, the American people actually don’t appear to want X. Not even close. Why do you persist in saying that they do in spite of the data?”

No, not likely, not usually.

Why not?

As I’ve implied above, the reporters need the public servants much more than the public servants need the reporters. Since there are many more interviewers (and news outlets) desiring the time of the elected official, the latter can avoid an unfriendly interrogator. He can go elsewhere with his talking points, to a place where he will receive a less challenging reception.

Put simply, we are dealing with supply and demand.

Because of a surplus of TV, radio, and internet news sources, the terms of engagement will usually be dictated by the man who is in demand, not the relatively anonymous reporter who can always be replaced by someone in the long line of other aspiring journalists. Only the best known, most popular or well-respected members of the press are in a position to do their jobs thoroughly and well: to ask the tough questions, get them answered, and forcefully challenge self-serving untruths.

If, however, you are the aforementioned anonymous reporter who actually tries to do his job, relentlessly challenging falsehoods and the efforts of elected officials to change the subject, you lose access to them.  Without “newsmakers” to be interviewed, your show’s sponsors abandon you and your boss fires you. And so, to avoid this outcome, you may surrender a bit of your integrity and permit answers that are unresponsive to your questions, while ignoring those comments that are disingenuous, preposterous, misleading, or frank lies.

The independence of the reporter and the politician is only apparent. It doesn’t reflect their real interdependence, with the “pol” most often holding the reins, able to direct the conversation as he wishes; answer what he wants in the way he wants and ignore the rest.

This sort of thing doesn’t stop with political reporting.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/30/CNBC_Fast_Money_team.jpg/500px-CNBC_Fast_Money_team.jpg

If you watch CNBC for moment-by-moment financial news, expect drama over sobriety; expect red-faced intensity to match the gyrations of the changing numbers on the screen. So-called authorities are given a platform for economic analysis, typically without a serious challenge to the limited understanding anyone has of the financial markets.

The show specializes in overly simple economic opinions and predictions offered by “experts,” who provide only brief justification for their statements. Nearly all of the talking-heads who offer that advice seem equally certain about what they are saying, even if their positions are diametrically opposed. Unfortunately, the audience, made up of average investors, will find the underlying issues far too complex and insufficiently elucidated to do much more than pick one of the speakers who “sounds good” and hope that his judgment is right.

Why is this permitted to happen?

Although the reporters do appear to be bright, well-educated people, their first job is to make sure we watch them — nothing more noble or enlightening than that; certainly the goal of helping us understand what is important about financial events is lower on their list of priorities.

As a result, CNBC does what is necessary to make drama out of financial happenings, hoping that you will stay tuned in. It treats the ups and downs of the stock market as big news, even when that news is very temporary and of little or no lasting importance. Large moves up on the Dow Jones Industrial Average can be received as if “Happy Days are Here Again,” while down-days are made to seem as if the sky is falling.

If your investments appear to be tanking, I wouldn’t call on one of these people to talk you off the ledge (as in the case of the rather stiff creature just below, who looks as if she has been watching CNBC too much recently).

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/19/Heurich_Mausoleum_by_Louis_Amateis_%28ca._1895%29_Control_IAS_76004848_frontleft.jpg/500px-Heurich_Mausoleum_by_Louis_Amateis_%28ca._1895%29_Control_IAS_76004848_frontleft.jpg

Sensation-producing guest commentators are often featured over those who are inclined to say “this too shall pass” or “I don’t really think anyone can explain movements in the financial markets on a day-to-day basis.” The latter message is problematic for CNBC not only because it is boring, but because it defeats the show’s premise: that your stock portfolio will benefit if you regularly watch and learn from the program, despite the stomach acid created by its over-dramatized, hyperbolic presentation of financial commentary.

Rarely is anyone on CNBC permitted a really detailed and lengthy defense of his predictions about upcoming commercial trends. That would be too much like taking a course in economics, famously called “the dismal science.” But a thorough and complex look into the crystal ball at fiscal “Tomorrow Land” is surely required given the historic failure of financial analysts to create an accepted and accurate method of doing this.

Program hosts really don’t want to offend by pointing out the limits to economic future-casts, so statements by guests are rarely aggressively challenged, although some of the regular CNBC presenters are quite happy to argue with each other, since fights just might attract more viewers.

But even worse, a guest commentator is not required to provide a performance record of his accuracy in predicting the future of the financial markets, in the way that a baseball player’s hits, runs, and errors might point to a player’s value to the team.

I find the absence of that kind of score card quite remarkable. Financial analysis and advice is a business that focuses entirely on numbers. Yet the reporters infrequently track the predictions made by those same guest commentators. Such data might, after all, result in some pretty embarrassing questions like “Gee, four months ago you were certain of X, now you are saying you are certain of Y and over the past three years your predictions have been correct only 31% of the time, so why should we believe you now?”

As Burton Malkiel notes in his classic book on investment, A Random Walk Down Wall Street, the great majority of investment managers do not do as well in choosing profitable stocks for their clients as would a randomly chosen selection of similar equities. This fact, by the way, has stood the test of time and is part of known and accepted economic knowledge.

In other words, if the predictive failures of the experts were displayed on the TV screen, those consultants with a history of mediocre clairvoyance (which is most of them) wouldn’t come within a mile of CNBC or any similar media outlets. Given that the hosts don’t want their program to fail, they cannot easily say that “the emperor has no clothes.”

Don’t expect this to change any time soon.

They have given away that power in return for commercial success.

So what else are we talking about here, beyond the political and financial domains?

I believe that what I’ve written here about power in relationships applies just as well to the connections between leaders and followers, performers and their audience, the pastor and his flock. In all these relationships there are conditions in which the unseen power of one person or group will produce deference or capitulation from the other person or group, even when we’d think this shouldn’t be so.

Some of the most admired people sometimes fear that they will lose their audience. As a result, they become hostage to others’ opinions and betray their own better instincts by giving away their power to those same “others.”

I am reminded of a story told by Yehudi Menuhin regarding Pablo Casals in Menuhin’s book Unfinished Journey. Menuhin, a world-famous American violinist, was the first Jewish musician after World War II to play under the direction of Wilhelm Furtwängler, the most famous German conductor of his time. Furtwängler was a controversial figure because he had chosen to stay in Germany during the period of the Third Reich and was believed to have compromised himself by allowing his artistic talents to be used for propaganda purposes by the Nazi state. But he was never a member of the Nazi Party and helped save the lives of a number of Jewish musicians. In other words, a man with a complex history.

In 1947, already under heavy criticism for his musical contact with Furtwängler, Menuhin hoped to arrange a recording to be conducted by Furtwängler with the equally famous cellist Pablo Casals. Casals was then 71-years-old and revered for both musical and extra-musical reasons. He had refused to set foot in his Spanish homeland so long as Franco, the fascist dictator, remained in power there, and he publicly opposed Franco from his self-imposed exile in France.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/85/Pau_Casals_centenary_statue.jpg/500px-Pau_Casals_centenary_statue.jpg

The stage was set: the musician Furtwängler, tainted (perhaps unfairly) by fascism and the musician Casals, hero to the anti-fascists. They had made music together of great beauty and refinement before Germany was ruled by Hitler and his gang. Could Menuhin bring these two men together now that the war was over?

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f3/DBPB_1955_128_Wilhelm_Furtw%C3%A4ngler.jpg/500px-DBPB_1955_128_Wilhelm_Furtw%C3%A4ngler.jpg

Let Menuhin tell the story:

I asked Casals his opinion of Furtwängler… Furtwängler he admired, not only as a conductor but as a German: he had been right to stay in Germany and do what he could for music and musicians. Reassured, I suggested that I might try to arrange a recording of the Brahms Double Concerto to be made by Casals, Furtwängler and myself. He accepted in principle.

I made several attempts to pursue the matter (with the record company EMI; they) were interested.  For Furtwängler it would have been a most valuable accolade, given by the foremost antifascist musician; but all approaches were deflected by Casals — he would love to make the recording but couldn’t at the moment. Finally, some two summers later, after perhaps the third prodding, he sent me a letter which with disarming frankness betrayed the limits of his independence: he assured me that he personally had nothing against Furtwängler and could envisage few greater pleasures than playing with him, were it not for the fact that to do so might compromise his antifascist stance and dismay his followers. In other words, he was prepared to let me know he didn’t have the courage of his convictions; so long as those convictions were approved by his admirers, they were strong convictions indeed, but in other circumstances not strong enough to withstand guilt by association with a man wrongfully accused.

Now think back to those politicians I mentioned before — the ones who have their way with reporters who fail to strenuously cross-examine them; but by contrast, many of these “pols” go along with the “party line” of the people who are supposed to be on their side. I am talking about public officials who conform with servile adherence to tests of political purity maintained by some of their constituents, (for example, a pledge never to raise taxes on anyone regardless of circumstances, no matter how rich the person might be).

Such politicians can dictate interview terms with some of the journalists, but appear hostage (like Casals) to their “friends” and supporters, be they big business or labor unions or the people who fund their campaigns for reelection.

Look around you. Look at clergymen and their congregations, at wives and husbands, at parents and children, at employers and employees. And, look too, at you and your lover, if you happen to be unmarried. Figuring out who might have the upper hand (and why) is not always an easy thing. But if you cannot live without a certain person’s approval, you do not have as much leverage as it might otherwise appear. You are likely to give too much ground, too often.

Larry Adler, the twentieth century American harmonica virtuoso, very clearly saw the “power” element in human relationships at work in the period just after World War II. As a man who had been “blacklisted” for alleged Communist sympathies during the McCarthy era, he did not want to be anyone’s hostage, even at the cost of his livelihood. He spoke his mind publicly at a time when doing so was dangerous.

Although he was not a Communist, he believed that no one in a free country had a right to require him to take a loyalty oath or declare his political sympathies — in effect asking him how he would vote. In the midst of a political witch-hunt — at a time when many employers and concert-promoters demanded this kind of reassurance — his refusal resulted in the loss of his ability to get work, forcing a move to England simply to make a living.

The title quotation for this post comes from his autobiography, It Ain’t Necessarily So.

Just to reiterate:

You should always have enough ‘F**k you’ money.

You don’t have it unless you are willing to act on it; that is, unless you are prepared to refuse conditions imposed by someone else, even at great cost to yourself.

But it’s more than just about money, isn’t it?

If you love status, approval, applause, material things, the sexual attention of others (or money) more than who you are and what you stand for, you are in trouble, my friend.

And the person who figures this out will have power over you.

Powerful or powerless?

Most of us aren’t heroic.

Still, you must choose.

Indeed, you have already made the choice.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/21/Larry_Adler%2C_City_center%2C_NYC%2C_January_1947_%28Gottlieb_00031%29.jpg/500px-Larry_Adler%2C_City_center%2C_NYC%2C_January_1947_%28Gottlieb_00031%29.jpg

The top image is David Frost (left) Interviewing Donald Rumsfeld on June 14, 2005, photo taken by Robert D. Ward. The second picture is of CNBC’s Fast Money Team until 2007 – 5 – 18. The statue on the ledge that follows comes from the Heurich Mausoleum by Louis Ameteis ca. 1895 and was photographed by Wikipedia Saves Public Art. The fourth image is a Centenary Statue of Pablo Casals at Montserrat, Spain taken by UserMdd4696. Just below it is a 1955 commemorative postage stamp of Wilhelm Furtwängler, scanned by NobbiP. Finally, a photo of Larry Adler taken at City Center in New York, ca. 1947 by William P. Gottlieb. All are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Give Me Presence! The Magic of Charisma

No, the third word in the title isn’t a misspelling. I do mean “presence,” not presents.

Just wanted to get your attention.

According to the online “wiktionary,” the word presence can be defined as “a quality of poise and effectiveness that enables a performer to achieve a close relationship with his audience.” It goes on to give an example: “Despite being less than five foot, she filled up the theater with her stage presence.”

It is that almost indefinable quality about which I am writing. An ineffable “something” about a person which draws us to him, focuses our attention, grabs us so that we are “taken” by him to the point of being more easily influenced, touched, or otherwise affected. The kind of characteristic that people refer to when they say that they can’t take their eyes off of someone or are mesmerized by his voice.

It tends to be a thing that one either has or doesn’t have, not a talent that is easily taught or self-created.

Wilhelm Furtwängler had it. Furtwängler was best known as a German symphony and opera conductor who lived from 1886 to 1954. He was a physically unattractive man (see photo above): tall, bald, and socially awkward. Yet remarkable stories are told about him, and his recordings of the great German composers (e.g Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert) are riveting.

The long time timpanist of the Berlin Philharmonic, Furtwängler’s orchestra, recalled a rehearsal at which they were led by a guest conductor. Werner Thärichen, the timpanist, was waiting for his part in the composition and simply following along in the musical score, turning pages as he did so. Then, suddenly, he noticed that the tonal quality of the sound changed dramatically; that is, the intensity, expressiveness, and beauty of sound abruptly increased.

Startled, he looked up.

Furtwängler had simply walked into the hall in order to observe the rehearsal. His physical presence alone, even in the absence of a look or gesture, was enough to alter the way that the musicians played and evoke a different aural characteristic.

Surely you have known people like this. They have big personalities and a magnetism that is hard to resist. It is said by those who have spoken face-to-face with Bill Clinton, even by some of his detractors, that when he talks to you his gaze makes you feel as if you and you alone are the only thing that exists in his universe.

But “presence” is not always benign. Some people, without ever saying a word, have a physical bearing and facial expression that produces intimidation. Others can intimidate not by looking menacing, but by the combination of their intensity, seriousness, and apparent intellect.

One can try to change or soften one’s presence, but it can be difficult. It is said that the dramatic and exciting conductor Sir Georg Solti sometimes implored the members of his orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, to play in a softer, less aggressive way than they characteristically did for him. To his dismay, despite his words, the musicians were compelled to respond to his large, angular gestures and the urgent, kinetic quality of his being. Although they desired to achieve what he wanted, he evoked a different sound than that which he described on these occasions; the players were irresistibly carried along in a way that neither they nor he wanted.

Might you know someone whose basic good humor and shining presence makes you feel good when he enters a room? My youngest daughter, from an early age, would complain that “people are looking at me!” At first my wife and I worried about the possibility of an early developing paranoid state.

But then, we noticed something interesting.

People were looking at her. Carly had an animation and expressive vitality that drew the eyes of strangers and today, make her an excellent performing musician. She “owns” the stage and that quality was there, on its own, from the start.

Confidence and a lack of self-consciousness help to create a big personality, of course, but they are not absolutely essential.

No, this is something quite mysterious. You can be beautiful and not alluring, plain but engaging, unwise but compelling; you can have the right answers to which no one listens; or be a charismatic leader with the wrong answers — indeed, disastrous plans that can sweep a whole nation along with you to its doom. Any time we worship at the altar of charisma we are at risk.

Even so, it is better for each of us to have a strong presence than not and best to know how we are perceived by others and whether we are producing an unwanted impression.

Still, most of us don’t want to be the guy who, when he is in a crowd, makes the crowd stand out. Having some impact is usually better than having none.

But, as relationship consumers, each of us needs to be sure that the person we are with is not simply a great “presence,” but that he has something substantial to offer.

Be careful.

We are all drawn to the sound of the “sizzle” of a steak on a grill, even without the steak actually being there.

Unfortunately, the sizzle without the steak doesn’t make much of a meal.

The top image is of Wilhelm Furtwängler. The bottom image is of Sir Georg Solti.

Who are You to Judge?

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/97/Gavel.png/500px-Gavel.png

Judgment is problematic. We need it, but not too much of it. Sort of like food.

While I will say more of a secular nature, the most famous comment on judgment comes from the New Testament — the Christian Bible — and is attributed to Jesus:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The point here is about the potential hypocrisy: for us to judge others by a standard that is harsher than the one that we apply to ourselves. It is akin to the famous late addition to the Christian Bible about Jesus turning away the men who were about to stone a woman who had committed adultery, with the comment “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He later advises her to go and “sin no more.”

We judge lots of things. We need to judge the accused in the court room, lest wrong-doers do wrong with impunity. We judge ourselves and, one hopes that it improves our future behavior and helps us make good decisions.

We judge for self-protection, too; to comfort ourselves with the belief that the misfortune of others is due to their bad decision-making. By implication, if we make better decisions — display better judgment than they did — fate will be kinder to us. If we are careful, thoughtful, smart, do our homework, live by the Golden Rule, and so forth, good things will happen to us and we will avoid bad things.

This view seems to look at misfortune as some sort of anomaly, something that is outside of the normal course of events when, of course, it is not. All sorts of bad things happen to the innocent or unlucky. This is a troubling thought and our negative judgment of others — our attempt to make sense of their troubled lives or bad luck — makes it easier to sleep at night.

I’m not trying to justify all poor decisions here, many of which surely lead to disaster. Rather, it’s simply that not every bad thing is the result of some fatal flaw in the nature or conduct of a man or woman. Sometimes you can do everything right and have a bad result. Sometimes things just happen.

Judgment serves, too, as an attempt to guarantee immortality. Since most people see death as the worst possible outcome in any life, it shouldn’t be surprising that harsh judgment is often characteristic of religious fundamentalism. For the “by-the-book” parishioner, following all the rules of his or her particular religion guarantees a heavenly reward. And, for those who violate the doctrine, the faithful believe that there will usually be a trip to a darker place.

Judgment in this instance provides some comfort that death is not final; and perhaps the self-satisfaction of believing that in visiting judgment on the unfaithful, one is only trying to move them onto a path that will lead to heaven. For some of the religious fundamentalists I’m sure that it is; for others, however, it might only be a justification for venting angry condemnation of those who are different and who do not believe what the self-righteous might wish they did believe.

Judgment is often made by those who have no experience of the situation or circumstance in which the “judged” behavior occurred. To take a current example, consider Tiger Woods (or some other celebrity) reported to be unfaithful to his spouse. I am certainly not here to apologize for, or attempt to excuse Tiger Woods’ behavior. But I would say this: I suspect that non-celebrities have no idea of the temptation available to a man or woman in Woods’ position nearly every day of his life. And, as Oscar Wilde famously said, “I can resist anything but temptation.”

But, let us move away from the always controversial area of sex to give this idea a different look. I once asked the great Italian symphony conductor Carlo Maria Giulini about his judgment of the behavior of the German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. Furtwängler chose to stay in Germany during the period of the Third Reich, although he was not a Nazi. While he was helpful to some Jewish musicians, he also was used (and allowed himself to be used) as a propaganda tool by the Nazis.

Giulini , who began his career as an orchestral violist, had played under Furtwängler in Italy before the war. Moreover, during World War II, Giulini, never a fascist, had defected from the Italian army into which he had been conscripted and went into hiding for nine months, during which time he was a “wanted” man. But when I asked him about the controversy surrounding Furtwängler’s decision to stay in Germany and to allow himself to be a representative of a corrupt regime, Giulini was hesitant to judge:

It’s very, very difficult to judge the position of a man. It’s difficult for you in America to understand the problems we had in Europe. It’s difficult to put yourself in a position, in a special moment (in history), that is absolutely impossible to imagine if you didn’t live in that time. That last thing I should do is to express my opinion on this point. I had my personal political opinion, I took my position — very precise. I was not a fascist (laughs), and at the moment that I had to make a strong decision, I took it. But I am not in a position to do any criticism of another person.

We judge ourselves and others, to the extent that we do it, with the perfection of 20/20 vision that only comes in looking back, in hindsight, at what was done. We sometimes say “he should have known better than to” (make that business deal, marry that person, visit that neighborhood, smoke, drink — take your pick). Well, it is sometimes true. And, after all, I’m in the business of trying to help people to make better judgments. But mostly, that experience tells me that all people make mistakes and, assuming that they don’t mean to injure others, they mostly pay for those mistakes with their own blood, tears, and sweat.

As much as I recognize that judgment has its place, as a therapist, I try to meet people on their own terms, not coming from “on high” as a stern taskmaster or a fundamentalist-style religious figure “laying down the law.”

No, if you want that, you shouldn’t consult me. I am not here to condemn, although I don’t shy away from identifying right from wrong when it can be clearly seen.

Instead, I am here to help, to understand, to provide a bit of solace, to be a guide to a better way, if I can.

The gavel at the top of this essay is the work of Glentamara and sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

What’s a Beethovenmobile? When a “van” Isn’t a Station Wagon

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6f/Beethoven.jpg/500px-Beethoven.jpg

Language is a funny thing. Translations can be particularly amusing.

Since I am a collector of classical recordings, I received an e-mail from a Japanese website offering a large set of discs conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. Furtwängler conducted lots of Beethoven, so I wasn’t surprised to find numerous performances of his music in the table of contents. But, I didn’t immediately understand why Beethoven’s name was listed as “Ludwig Station Wagon Beethoven.”

After a few seconds, the answer came to me. The Japanese translator must have taken the actual name “Ludwig van Beethoven” as it is written in Japanese and, using one of the translating devices available on the web, attempted to convert it into English. Thus, the “van” (as in a type of motor vehicle) became “station wagon.”

Is it any wonder that we humans have misunderstandings? One thing is for sure: I’ll never be able to look at a mini-van in quite the same way again.

The painting above by Joseph Karl Stieler (1781-1858) is of Beethoven ca. 1820. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.