What are we missing?

Published 6:15 am Tuesday, January 23, 2018

On a cold January morning in 2007, the Washington Post conducted an experiment. They invited Joshua Bell, one of the most famous classical violinists of our time, to play music at the Washington, D.C. Metro Train Station. No introductions, no fanfare, simply stand on a busy walkway and play. He did six famous pieces written by J.S. Bach on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

During the 45 minutes he played, around 2,000 people walked by him on their way to work. During that time only six adults stopped and listened for a short while. Twenty or so laid down money that totaled $32 (Bell has sold out auditoriums where the tickets were a hundred bucks each). Several children tried to stop and listen, but were always forced to keep moving by their parents. When he finished playing, the hum of humans bustling about returned. One of the greatest violinist in the world playing some of the most intricate pieces of music ever written on one of the rarest violins ever made (yeah, it was a Stradivarius), and almost no one took time to notice or applaud.

The Washington Post set this up as a social experiment about perception and people’s priorities. The question they tried to answer was: In a commonplace and busy environment, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? An unfortunate conclusion one could draw from this is that, if the surge of modern life so engulfs us that we are deaf and blind to something as a great musician playing great music on a great instrument, what else are we missing?

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We are so blessed to live in a place where wildflowers bloom along roadsides; fireflies wink a nightly light show; the moon is still bright and glorious when it’s full; snow totally transforms a landscape; and the mountains surround us with layer upon layer of beautiful scenery. Did you notice? I’m as guilty as any for not. And as we become more and more “connected” to our phones and its accompanying technology, we are in danger of becoming more dis-connected to our surroundings. And the psychology guys have shown through studies that for good mental health we need those snippets of enjoying our surroundings and “being in the moment” that nature can provide. I think that in these modern times the Biblical statement “be still and know…” is even more applicable.

Steve Roark is the area forester in Tazewell, Tennessee, for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.