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The Power of Perception

Below is an e-mail I recently received from some friends.  It is a true story based on a Washington Post social experiment organized in 2007 about perception, taste and people’s priorities


Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007 a man walks to a corner of the station pulls out his violin and begins to play.   The man with the violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 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 and continued to walk.
6 minutes later: 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. 

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 $100.

I was blown away by this article not just amazed at how many people missed out on this ‘free concert’ but in thinking that I too might have missed out.

In my research about this experiment,  I stumbled upon on a few posts about it–a few people expressed frustration about the experiment.   Their view was if people knew it was a free concert they would have stopped but because no one told them they had things they had to do in their lives.  THAT is EXACTLY the point.  Absolutely, tell people they are getting something for free and they would stop, just for the mere fact they are getting something for free or because they are seeing a famous musician.  But when walking through a crowded subway station headed to your next meeting or event and you hear beautiful music playing by a perceived street musician, do you stop?  Do you take time out of your day to listen and enjoy? Or do you keep moving?

One woman did stop–at the end of the video you can see her standing there and then she says, ‘only in DC would this happen’ she loved the music, stopped to listen and then recognized the musician.  Had she not followed her instincts to stop when she heard the music she would have missed out on enjoying a serenade by one of the world’s top musicians–free or not.

How many opportunities like this do we miss in a day, the chance to talk to a stranger/friend, listening to our partner’s story about his/her day, hearing our children laugh, watching a beautiful sunset.

I am always amazed how on vacation the sunset becomes a giant part of the day–each day on vacation we watched for the sunset, in fact a large crowd gathers to watch the sunset.  Makes sense, we are all on vacation, we are all of the mindset of relaxing and enjoying our time.  However, at home, we rarely watch the sunset–granted these days it is hard to see with all the clouds.  When we get home, we have things to do, people to see and the sunset becomes lost in the shuffle.  In reality, the sunset happens at home the same as it does on vacation.  So I was surprised and touched when my nearest and dearest said to me one of the favorite parts of his job is from his window he can watch the sunset each day.  That is what this story reminds us of:  Little moments happen every day that we might just miss because we are too busy or because we perceive them as insignificant.

So today my challenge to you is to follow your gut–listen for the beautiful music, the touching story or the heartfelt laughter that makes up your day and then stop and enjoy it!!!

If you are interested, here is the original article in the Washington Post.

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