Are You Rushing Life?

by matt on May 3, 2010

The other day I was reading a story in the Washington Post about a social experiment with the world famous violinist Joshua Bell that looked at people’s perception, taste and priorities.

The setup

At the Metro Station in Washington D.C. a man with a violin played six Bach pieces, one of which is the most intricate piece ever written, with a violin that is worth $3.5 million dollars.  In front of him was an open violin case with some seed money strewn inside.  A world famous violinist, one of the greatest musicians in the world, who just two days before sold out a Boston show where seats averaged $100 each, was playing in a busy metro station.  Would people be amazed?  Would they stop and listen?  Would they toss some spare change in the open case?

During the 45 minutes that he played a little over 1000 people passed through the station, most probably on their way to work.  After 3 minutes of playing a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing.  He stopped for a few seconds and then hurried on past.

At the 4 minute mark he received his first dollar from a woman who never slowed her pace but tossed it in while quickly walking by.

At 6 minutes a young man stopped to listen, looked at his watch and continued on.  At 10 minutes a mother with child in tow walked by.  The child wanted to stop and listen and showed great interest in the violinist but the mother continued to push her child forward and past the musician.  This was repeated for several other children but each parent, without exception, rushed their children past.

At 45 minutes there had been only 6 people that had stopped to listen for a short while.  About 20 had given money but most had done so without stopping.  The musician had collected a total of $32.

After an hour of playing some of the world’s most beautiful pieces of music he finished playing and silence took over the station.  Only one woman had recognized him and stayed until the end.  Other than her there was no recognition at all.

Ghosts passing through life

Let’s ignore for a second the possibility that the majority of people passing by that morning didn’t know or recognize Bell.  I’ll admit that I didn’t know who he was until I read the article.  Let’s also ignore that maybe there were people passing by that didn’t like classical music or have an appreciation for it.  Even ignoring those two things it’s funny to watch people just walk on by without even a second of acknowledgment.  Are we really that busy and preoccupied with our lives that we can’t take even a minute to acknowledge something outside of our normal day?

When I read this article I thought back to this past Saturday when I went down to the local street market.  There was a violinist playing there.  He was good.  I listened for a bit but really only because I was waiting for my wife to buy some meat.  If I had been one of the people walking through that metro station while Joshua Bell played some of the most beautiful pieces of music I can’t say that I wouldn’t have just walked on by.  I had only stayed and listened to the street market performer because I was waiting and in fact I stood behind him and gave no acknowledgment or approval or even tossed in a few coins in support.

Are we really so distracted by events in our own lives that we no longer have an appreciation for or even a recognition of the more subtle things in life?  Are we really so busy that we can’t take a few minutes out of our day to stop and smell the roses?  Are we just ghosts passing through life?

What’s the rush?

The other day as I was driving into work I observed the hurried pace people were in, almost as if their lives depended on getting to their destination in the shortest period of time.  Everyone seemed in a rush to get to the office.  There were speeders, tailgaters, rapid lane changers, cut-you-off’ers and red light runners.  It seems like we have become a society of people that view the shortest path between points A and B as the most important and interesting component.  How can I get from here to there in the shortest amount of time because time is money these days?  We’ve filled our lives to the brim with so many activities and distractions that we’ve lost sight of the big picture.  We are busy from the moment we arise in the morning to when we lay our head down on the pillow at night.  Maybe we are just bad at time management or maybe we just plain have our priorities all wrong.  Are we simply shutting down due to sensory overload?

What we are forgetting is that it’s not arriving at the destination that is the most important part.  It’s the journey and experience between points A and B that matter.  It’s what happens along the way.

The Big Picture

Sometimes I think I unfortunately run my life like most of us run our day.  I keep focusing on the end point, the destination, the time when I can retire and do the things that I really want to do.  But here is the catch…there is no guarantee that I am going to reach that destination and even if I do get there will I be so beat-up from the journey that I won’t be in any condition to enjoy it?  If I concentrate on and focus too much on where I want to end up I miss all the things that are going on right now.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I think it is important to have end goals and to make plans with an eye on the future.  But the key is to do so without forgetting about or compromising the journey to get there.  Back in March I took my family on a trip to San Francisco.  The city itself was our destination.  Now we could have driven straight down I5 for 9 hours until we drove into the city and checked into our hotel.  But instead we took the scenic coastal route and spent 2 days driving through and exploring the southern Oregon coast and the redwoods of northern California.  The point I am trying to make is that we don’t have to live our lives in such a way that we lose the experience of the journey.

I am working hard to create a life for myself that allows me to enjoy the moments along the way.  I want to fully engage life and live a life of purpose every single day.  I no longer want to run through life with blinders on and miss out on the wonderful things happening around me at all times.  I don’t want to walk through a metro station and not be able to stop to listen to some beautiful music.  I don’t want to continue to be a ghost passing through life.

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