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Published:February 27th, 2007 13:03 EST

What I learned from a Potential Hijacker

By Terry Sumerlin (Mentor/Columnist)

The flight was many years ago. So, I’m not sure about the origin or destination. I think it was Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale, to board a ship out of Port Everglades. Though these details are unclear, the following story is not.

I was in the middle seat. I remember nothing about the person next to the window. The man in the isle seat, however, I remember very well.

He appeared to be thirty something, was tall, trim, and had shoulder length, jet black curls. He was dressed casually (not power casual, just casual), and definitely not part of my crowd. He actually looked sort of international, and I thought could have been a hijacker looking for an opportunity.

During flight we exchanged courteous greetings and, with the exception of when I excused myself to go to the lavatory, nothing else was said.

The flight went very well, each of us doing our reading or napping, and in no time I was comfortably settled aboard the Princess ship. It's what happened at sea that was a bit unsettling. It taught me a valuable lesson.

One day as I was having breakfast in the 11th deck Horizon Court, who should I see but my acquaintance from the flight? I had seen him previously, but this time he walked over and struck up a conversation.

"What do you do on the ship?" he asked in a friendly manner. "I know you're not just a passenger because you seem to know your way around." I didn’t tell him I learned a long time ago that first time passengers step off elevators looking around like they were just beamed down from Starship Enterprise.

I told him I was doing "enrichment lectures" for the passengers. He, in turn, said he was doing one of the nightly performances. Actually, he was an internationally renowned pianist. Not exactly the hijacker type, I guess.

As we became friends and visited several times over the next few days, I learned that he had a wife and two precious little daughters at home in Florida. I also found out that he spent six months a year performing in Europe and six months ship-hopping, doing one and two night gigs. He had a very demanding, stressful schedule. But, he was very gracious and classy - a genuine delight to sort of hang with. When it was time for him to “jump ship” I was sorry to see him go.

To this day, though I no longer have his name or contact information, I think of how the time we were together was too short. I also think of how that time was made even shorter by my prejudice on the flight. We could have begun our friendship at that time. My prejudice and mistaken first impression were barriers. I'm not proud of that.

In this case the price of prejudice (pre-judging) could ultimately have been a missed friendship. In other circumstances it might be the loss of future business, a learning opportunity or a pleasurable experience. How often do we assume because of someone’s appearance, background, ethnicity, socioeconomic level or what have you that any dealings with him/her would be harmful or a waste of time? How often, when someone disagrees with us do we immediately start trying to figure out motive instead of trying to learn from the experience? How often does prejudice keep us from a pleasurable, though new, experience?

My friend's solo performance, was just that - pure pleasure. As his black curls bounced gently on the shoulders of his finely tailored tuxedo, from center stage, he held us spellbound.

BARBER-OSOPHY: If we want to really live we must get over immature prejudices.