Re-Membering Beauty

A Tale of How Perception Warps Reality
Washington, D.C., Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007.  The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.  During that time approximately two thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.    After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing.  He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.    4  minutes later:  The violinist received his first dollar; a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.
6  minutes:  A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.  10  minutes:  A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly.  The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time.  This action was repeated by several other children.  Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.    45  minutes:  The musician played continuously.  Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while.  About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace.  The man  collected a total of $32.    1  hour:  He finished playing and silence took over.  No one noticed..  No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest 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 Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $200.00.
This is a true story.  Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.  The questions raised:  In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it?  Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
One  conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:  If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made, how many other things are we missing?
I found this ‘story’ on LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability); the story is linked above but a source is not quoted. It’s a great example of the power of our expectations to shape our perceptions. In the wild resiliency model language, it demonstrates how The Power of Arrival overlays onto Our Ground of Being: see Seven Keystone Processes of Wild Resiliency for an introduction to this thinking and language.


  1. Rebecca

    09/29/2009 at 5:30 am

    Thank you!
    Giving our attention to the world that surrounds will anchor you to the beauty in everything… even to the small weeds that struggle to push their way through the cracks in the concrete.
    Beauty abounds, if we only allow it.
    What a wonderfully poignant example.

  2. Dredd

    09/29/2009 at 5:36 pm

    The truth pulls no punches.
    As we look into the cosmos and the breathless beauty of countless galaxies and stars reaching our eyes, the same thing happens.
    We miss the big picture all too often.

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