One of the unintended consequences
of a 24-7 blackberry/twitter world is that our attentions are seldom
focused. During the inaugural, I met a pro athlete who told me
that several thousand people were following his every (and I mean
every) move through a new technology: twitter (My question, who
cares? But obviously I am wrong...many do). Like me, you likely
flit from activity to activity, crisis to crisis...overwhelmed
and even 'high' on movement and stimulus trying to take in all
that is available. For many of us, the elusive goal of simply trying
to get on top of our lives seems unachievable. We are spending
more and more time with our ipods, iphones, computers, and other
slick devices and less and less time with people or pondering.
Yes, pondering; observing, being struck by the awe and pain of
life and the simple things around us.
One of my dear friends and
mentors, John Whitehead, former Chairman of Goldman Sachs, did
something incredible when he was running the firm. John would take
off the month of August each year and was 'unreachable'. Is that
insane or what? But just possibly, the greatest of the man’s
virtues lies in this discipline of breaking the insane rhythms
17th century French thinker Blaise Pascal observed, “Nothing
is so intolerable to man as being fully at rest, without a passion,
without business, without entertainment, without care.” Even
back then he spoke of 'diversions' or activities simply intended
to take up our time, preventing us from thinking, observing, listening,
or feeling. And that was in the 17th century (Wouldn't you love
to see a debate between Blaise Pascal and Steve Jobs of Apple...but
then all is possible -'yes, we can!'- given the new technologies).
back, I came across the experiment related below with a violinist
in the Metro in Washington, DC. I was reminded of it again when
John Gray from Orlando kindly sent it my way recently. It raises
a number of important questions: Do we have time to take in beauty?
Is listening to our surroundings a lost art? Is there any such
thing as 'private' space in our lives any more? Do we have eyes
to see? What is this relentless movement and stimuli actually doing
to our heath... not having any restorative time?
The ancient wise
men who in collaboration with God thought of the idea of a Sabbath
might have been on to something. For centuries, 'blue laws' were
typically observed even in secular cultures. The reasoning was
that we needed a day free from work to rest, gain perspective,
and focus upon the truly important things in life. Such 'limits'
were deemed good for society, families, and individuals. Now, with
the 24-7 world we live in, this is gone. So, I ask: Is that progress?
assignment for me (and possibly you) might be to decide that next
week you are going to do two things. First, block out two consecutive
hours where you can merely think, sit, and walk. The key here is
to have no agenda. This might be incredibly difficult for some
of us. But, it should provide an excellent opportunity to learn
about yourself. Take notes. Why was it so uncomfortable for some
yet so energizing for others? Second, observe and write down 5
things that you typically might not 'see' unless you determined
to do so. Pay attention to the mosaics in the lobby of your office
building, the contours of a tree at dusk, listening to a great
aria in a dark room, etc. There is beauty all around and it will
feed our souls if we allow it. The trouble is that we live in cultures
that don't prize the acts of pondering and observing. Our world
celebrates 'action'. We are producing children that are driven...but
to what end. Will they be 'richer' inside or merely richer?
got to go. I am a busy man! (The currency of our time is busyness...are
we busy being busy?)
What is this life,
full of care.
if we have no time
to stand and stare.
Be alert to what truly matters,
Violinist in the Metro
A man sat at a metro station
in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold
January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.
During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that
thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their
way to work.
Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed
there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for
a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.
later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw
the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.
few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to
him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again.
Clearly he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention
was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but
the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed
hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time.
This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents,
without exception, forced them to move on.
In the 45 minutes the
musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while.
About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace.
He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over,
no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best
musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces
ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.
Two days before
his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in
Boston and the seats average $100.
Joshua Bell playing incognito
in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part
of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of
people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate
hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we
recognize the talent in an unexpected context?
One of the possible
conclusions from this experience could be:
If we do not have a moment
to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing
the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?