At all times and with great reliability even the best ideas have been perverted and damaged by zealots. And by zealots have the most pernicious ideas been pushed to the extreme.

What has changed is that mankind seems to have unlearned the useful (even vital) skill to tell bigotry and boastfulness from the real thing. People – journalists above all – fall for the loud and ostentatious. Those who really work for a good cause, who actually do good things are not in the media nor do they collect tweets and likes.

We celebrate zealots and ignore that they are not only boring, shallow and often acrid persons but can cause great harm to individuals and to societies.

I’m being quite harsh, right? What about all those who have adopted a cause with their whole heart and who – even though they sometimes overdo it and can get a bit bothersome – are not bad people at all or at least cannot be blamed of hidden intensions? What about those?

Well – they are enthusiasts!

At first sight, this might sound like a rather artificial differentiation. But here is a dozen simple rules that give you a robust heuristic to tell zealots and bigots from enthusiasts:

  • Zealots are there when a camera is there.
  • Zealots love to judge other people (even if they’ve never met them).
  • They are never the first to adopt an idea and never the last to stand up for it.
  • Zealots – even if they use words like »diverse« or »authentic« or »free« – hate the maverick, the free spirit, the eccentric.
  • They never invent or make anything. Zealots adopt, they quote, they criticise, they use, they misuse, they destroy – but they possess exactly zero creative power.
  • Zealots get very grumpy when the spotlights pan to someone else – even more so if the other person is fighting for the same good cause.
  • The zealot loves to comment on what he does (or thinks he does).
  • The zealot prefers buzzwords and stereotypes over the complexities and richness of real life. (Which in turn makes her think she knew everything and could explain anything.)
  • A zealot would never take a risk for the cause he pretends to be fighting for.
  • A zealot hates to be just one of many.
  • A zealot sees the good cause as a means for herself – not vice versa.
  • A zealot can never plead insanity.

(Oh, and do not try to joke around with them.)