If we ever needed a classic example and a picture of so much of what is wrong with our society, we need look no further than what has happened to Susan Boyle. If you are a living breathing soul, and if you live on our planet, you should be aware of this lady and what has happened to her over this past month.

               Susan is forty-seven years old and lives in a small Scottish village. Most of her adult life she has cared for her mother who passed away within the past couple of years at age ninety-one. She lives in a small modest dwelling and with the exception of the past several weeks, had lived a very simple quiet life with no computer, no vehicle and made the daily trek to a local inn in which she enjoyed singing karaoke to local patrons. None of us would have even known any of these facts about dear Susan however, if she had never been involved with a British television show called “Britain’s Got Talent” which mirrors “American Idol”  in every way except it is not strictly a singing competition as competitors can perform a vast array of talents on the show. The concept however is the same in which an unknown individual can potentially be catapulted from obscurity to fame and stardom by succeeding and making it to the final rounds of the show.

               For those readers who are unaware of the specifics of what took place with Susan, here is what basically occurred. Susan walked out on the stage of a large theater in front of a large audience of British folks and three celebrity judges. She is forty-seven years old, was dressed in an ordinary dress that she normally wore in her every day life, and was sporting her every day hair style . Many critics have described her appearance on that first performance day as “frumpy” and “dowdy”. Whether that is a correct assessment is debatable, but she indeed did not have the look or the appearance of a flashy starlet exuding charisma, that is for sure. To the contrary, to see the you tube video of Susan walking out on the stage for that first performance, one might get the feel that they were watching their mom, their aunt, or even their grandma who is just being herself up on that stage. What is significantly telling of our world today was the reaction of not just the judges, but the entire audience when she first strode out in front of them. As the cameras panned the audience, one can see folks snickering, rolling their eyes, and just in general, mocking this poor woman. The judges were also shown asking her patronizing questions that revealed that they thought that this lady before them was basically a joke, a mockery and not at all up to their standards of talent and sophistication. This critical reaction however stopped abruptly once Susan opened her mouth and began singing. The smirks, the laughing, the ridicule immediately changed to deafening silence as Susan began singing with one of the most stunning, most inspiring voices that the judges themselves claimed to have ever heard.  Throughout her performance, the camera again panned the crowd and this time the expressions were those of awe, of compete wonderment. As I watched those stunned faces in the audience, I felt as though I could almost read those minds as thinking “How can someone who looks like you, who is so non-hip, so non with it , so far from being glamourous and beautiful sing like you do?” To their credit, when Susan was finished singing, the crowd and the judges gave her a thundering ovation and the judges comments were not only complimentary but also quite honest and transparent. The judges even publicly admitted and remarked how everyone had been against Susan when she first walked out and were dismissing her outright as not being a serious contender based solely on her looks and her presence. She was given a hearty thumbs up by the judges and passed through to the next round of competition the following week.

         What then took place in the media, the television news and entertainment shows, the internet, the newspapers , everywhere was the hailing and praising of Susan Boyle. Everywhere one looked, it was everything Susan Boyle. The hype about her, her performance , the reaction of the audience , the entire incident was headline news and the talk of the media. When I stopped to consider the reason behind the fever pitch hype about the whole incident, I realized it was not just because of Susan Boyle’s great singing voice. That was partly the reason, but the real reason that Susan captured our hearts, our attention is because it forced us to squarely face our judgmental spirits. Just like those judges and that audience, how often do we look at someone and arrive at premature conclusions? How often have we snickered or rolled our own eyes at someone’s appearance, or their apparel, or how they may talk or just how they carry themselves? The real challenging question that we all must ask ourselves is how often have we done  these very things when in reality we do not even know that person at all whom we are judging so harshly? We also would be terribly naieve to think that we have not been the recipient or object of this type of judgment by others whether we were aware of it at the time or not. There is not one reader that is reading these words I believe, who is not guilty of this very thing. Some are more guilty than others, most definitely but I think if we are all honest, we have all engaged in this sort of judging to one degree or another.

           That saddest part of this whole story is the pressure that was put on Susan after that first stirring performance. With the onslaught of media attention, agents, organizations, the entire entertainment industry was clamoring for a piece of Susan Boyle . Now that she was an instant global sensation you see, they felt the need to change her. In their economy, Susan could not simply stay as the same Susan Boyle….no, she now needed a makeover, a new wardrobe, a new “look” or she would fizzle and fade away . They were out to market her and they surely did, to the point that it was reported last week , that Susan was hospitalized and wanted to quit the show before the final round. The press described her condition as “exhausted” however it was widely reported that she was close to a nervous breakdown of sorts. Is it any wonder?  Here is a woman who was a simple soul, at peace with who she was , who wanted to enter a talent competition because she enjoyed singing and thought that perhaps she had a good enough voice to try out. When she did, she was mocked, then accepted to a degree, then the object of society’s need to make her fit into their box of what is starlet material. The entire process has apparently been so traumatic, so emotionally taxing for this dear woman that she landed in the hospital expressing a desire to leave it all and quit.

           Is there a lesson here for all of us? I believe there is. Could it be that we need to stop being such a shallow, image conscious society that places premium importance on the outer look instead of the inner character?  It’s something to think about, isn’t it? When it is all said and done, the saga of Susan Boyle may be one that surprises everyone as she just might go down in the record books as not the lady who sang with the most amazing voice, but the teacher who taught us the greatest lesson . A lesson about simplicity, depth, and what is really important and what is not. Thank you Susan Boyle for being who you were before you ever stepped on that stage!