Our Perceptions and Values

 
 
   Can we allow our children and their children to suffer because we choose to believe that, apart from God's blessings and other gifts of love, we ever receive something for nothing?
 
    Is this "one Nation under God" not now reaping the consequences of ignoring the original intention of the Constitution? We have been tolerant too long of those seeking to destroy the America born in 1787 with "religion and morality as its indispensible supports". Isn't it time we provide "new guards for [our] security"?

 

 

 
 
 
Our Perceptions and Values
 
Washington, D.C., L'Enfant Plaza Subway Station, a cold morning on 12 January, 2007:
 
 The man with a 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, 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 7 people stopped and listened for a short while. The man collected a total of $32.17, contributed by a mere 27 of 1,097 passing travelers. He finished playing and silence took over. Only one person recognized the violinist. 

 
    The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world, a winner of the Avery Fisher Prize for outstanding achievement in classical music, who regularly plays over 200  international engagements a year. He played some of the most intricate pieces ever written, on his handcrafted 1713 Stradivarius violin (for which he reportedly paid $3.5 million). Three days earlier, Bell had played to a full house at Boston's Symphony Hall, where fairly good seats sold for $100.

    Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and people's priorities. Marketing surveys have found that people will frequently designate one of two identical items as being distinctly better than the other simply because it is packaged or presented more attractively.  Might this same concept apply to fields outside of consumer products, such as the arts or even politics?  Would, for example, people distinguish between a world-class instrumental virtuoso and an ordinary street musician, if the only difference between them were the setting?  Could people ignore the charisma and presentation style of a politician who invented his own persona, and hear what he was espousing versus a less articulate, less charismatic person whose credentials were verified by the public record? 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? Weingarten set up the event "as an experiment in context, perception, and priorities, as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?"

    One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:  Does truth really matter, if we are ignorant, choose to deny, or, by false perception, accept the lies and deceptions that we would rather believe? 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 letting influence us based solely on false perceptions? Can we allow our children and their children to suffer because we choose to believe that, apart from God's blessings and other gifts of love, we ever receive something for nothing?

 
As Weingarten described the crux of the 12 January, 2007 experiment, where morning commuters were, without publicity, treated to a free mini-concert:
    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?
 
    Is this "one Nation under God" not now reaping the consequences of ignoring the original intention of the Constitution? We have been tolerant too long of those seeking to destroy the America born in 1787 with "religion and morality as its indispensible supports". Isn't it time we provide "new guards for [our] security"?

 
May America bless God.
 
 
Gene Weingarten's April 2007 story won a Pulitzer prize in the feature writing category.

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