When Personal Beliefs Conflict with The Gig

Q: I spent this past Saturday marching the streets of Austin, TX with about 50,000 like-minded fellow Americans. Felt great… both humbling and inspiring! The next morning, I was playing my regular church gig – a place with a very different worldview and some decidedly harsh perspectives regarding my fellow marchers. I kept my mouth shut but was in danger of biting my tongue clean off a few times. You can probably see where this is going!

A little context about the gig: I’m a hired gun at this church, not a member. They have made no inquiry and hold no expectations about my own religious beliefs. They are a friendly and accommodating bunch that appreciates my work. And the money makes up a critical chunk of my monthly income.

Music is a big thing. It’s both the medium that expresses my soul and the craft that pays my bills. Sometimes it’s art; sometimes it’s work. Most of the time it’s floating somewhere in between. And I’ve got a serious in-between going on this one. I need the cash, but I can’t help feeling hypocritical playing for an organization I just don’t agree with.

So here’s my question: What insights might you have about those situations where your personal beliefs are in conflict with your gig? How do you strike a balance between being paid fairly to perform a specific task, no questions asked, and maintaining a personal standard for the kind of activities in which you participate? In short, when do you shut up and play bass, and when do you put your foot down?

A: This is a touchy subject, perhaps now more than ever.

My personal philosophy is basically this: I believe that everybody deserves honesty and respect and has the right to request it of others. Your beliefs are right for you, but that doesn’t make their beliefs wrong. It just makes them wrong for you, and vice-versa. For me, this holds true whether the other holds the same philosophy or not.

Personally, I don’t care what religion, color, sexual orientation, gender, height, width or shoe size you are. I’ll try my best to judge you by the quality of your being. I may not always be perfect at that, but it’s what I strive for. I’ve met far too many diverse people from all over the planet to pre-determine anybody’s self-worth based on what they look like or how they present themselves upon first glance.

The reason I mention this is because I also operate under the pretense that others will offer me the same courtesy (until proven otherwise).

I have countless friends of different beliefs around the world, and we hold many of the same values to be true. The only thing that differs is our belief in where that belief originates. Does it come from a divine being or does it come from my own life experiences and teachings? Does it really matter if we all are holding all life as something to be treasured and respected? I think the end result matters much more than the origin of the belief or the way in which we celebrate it (or not).

Because I hold this to be true, I certainly don’t see any conflict at all with you playing in a church, etc.

However, I would implore you not to try and be anything or anybody other than who you are. While remaining civil and respectful, I would personally insist that they honor your right to disagree with their perspective. My hope would be that everyone could actually have a discussion about the differing perspectives to help foster better understanding and helping to break down the perceived walls of “us” and “them.”

If they have a problem with you playing music at their church, then that is their prerogative. I would argue that it goes against their beliefs, but such is life. We are imperfect. If they honestly had an issue with you taking part in their services or daring to disagree with disrespectful, hateful or hurtful speech, I would simply state my disappointment and move on.

My hope is that, at worse, we could agree to disagree and move on. Someone just asked me the other day if I could work for a band leader that had vastly different political perspectives than mine and made it a point to talk politics. I have, I will, and I do. The key is treating each other with respect and honoring each other’s right to hold one belief over another. You can debate, forward each other articles and statistics and it can be enlightening, frustrating or just plain confusing, but it can be helpful if only to understand better where other folks are coming from. If we only preach and listen to our own choirs, we will have a very narrow lens through which to view the world.

Often, nobody changes their opinion, but I always feel better for having talked about it in a mature way. If it can’t stay civil, then you have to agree to just not get into it with each other and keep the focus on the music.

That is 100% my personal take on that whole thing. If you simply can’t stand working for the “other side,” then that is your right. If they can’t stand working with you, that’s their right. But when it comes to hurtful language or action, that is another story altogether. That is never okay.

If you aren’t religious but enjoy playing and working in any setting, that’s wonderful as long as they’re cool with it as well.

Respect is the key word.

Respect their beliefs and practices and insist that they respect yours as well. By no means should you be dishonest with them about your beliefs and by no means should you feel the need to keep your mouth shut when people are speaking disrespectfully about something you believe just to keep your gig. You owe it to yourself, them and the world to speak up on behalf of that which you hold to be true. Just give them the same courtesy.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to askdamian@notreble.com. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

Get Ask Damian Erskine in your inbox.

Don’t miss an Ask Damian column. Sign up for email alerts (every Wednesday).

Share your thoughts