Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Do you ever just stop and take in the moment?

I was reading a post on another blog today about appreciating every moment and taking time to actually realize everything you have. I was then on Facebook when I came across a picture with a story attached, which I immediately searched to see if it was based in truth. The story told the tale of Joshua Bell, a famous musician, who played violin incognito at a Washington subway station. Many passersby simply kept walking. While some did stop and drop money in the bucket, they usually never even stopped to really listen to the music he was playing. Many children were fascinated by the music, but they were ushered ahead by their parents. After researching this story, I discovered that it is true.

 "Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he's really bad? What if he's really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn't you? What's the moral mathematics of the moment"

Gene Weingarten, a writer for the Washington Post, enlisted the help of Joshua Bell as part of a social experiment. The goal was to see if people believed that something was better simply because of the way it was presented. In this case, it came down to the venue--the difference between a street musician playing at the subway and a famous musician playing in a concert hall. Joshua Bell had just played a concert that had sold out, with seats that cost $100. Now, he was playing the violin in a busy subway station during morning rush hour. They wanted to see if people would stop and see the beauty of the music, even though it was an inconvenient time when people were rushing to work.

While a few people did stop and listen, a crowd never formed and most never stayed for very long. Over 1,000 people simply passed by, without a glance, like he was invisible. Only one person recognized him. Weingarten said, "In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look." When he stopped playing, there was no applause or acknowledgement.

This experiment is intriguing, as it helps show that many people simply do not stop and take a moment to enjoy the simple things in life. Everyone is always so busy--rushing from work to school to finish errands to return home. Days are filled with schedules, meetings, assignments, errands to run, etc. One part of the story really got to me. Weingarten said, "Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away."

Every time a child stopped, the parent rushed the child forward. One woman who spoke about it afterwards said that she was rushed for time, which is most likely what many of those who passed by would have said afterwards. Yet, it really made me think. We, as adults and parents, are incredibly busy and our children are part of what keeps us busy. We have to keep up with our priorities and schedules, but we also have to keep up with theirs. Yet, children do not ask for these busy schedules. Sure, they may enjoy participating in events or team activities, and those things are good for the child, but do we ever let our children stop and take a moment to enjoy something beautiful? Do we ever stop and let ourselves appreciate beauty in the world? Of course, this experiment does not account for everyone, it was only one subway station in one city, but I would expect that the results would be similar in most areas throughout the country.

In the article, one passerby reported that a homeless person died in that subway station, and no one even looked up--as if that person was invisible too. It makes me sad that we are no longer able to see things that are plainly in front of us, whether it be something that is sad or beautiful. As Weingarten put it, "Let's accept that we can't look at what happened on January 12 and make any judgment whatever about people's sophistication or their ability to appreciate beauty. But what about their ability to appreciate life?"

"If we can't take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that -- then what else are we missing?

I think we are missing quite a bit. Many people talk about the stories of passersby ignoring the sad or unfortunate things in our world, and now it appears that we are so busy that we also ignore the beautiful things, as well. I think that it is time that many of us stopped ignoring the things in this world. There is sadness, but there is also beauty.

There are beautiful moments that escape us far too quickly, and we never even realize that they are gone, because we never even stopped to notice in the first place.


Weingarten, Gene. "Pearls Before Breakfast." Washington Post [Washington DC] 8 Apr 2007, n. pag. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. < http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html >.

 Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/music/artists/bell.asp

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