what are we missing?

My brother emailed me this story, which I’ve shared below. It’s about a violinist and peak hour at a busy train station. Of course it’s also about much more than that, but you have to read 'til the end to grasp it.

via yoganonymous

The story goes like this:

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till without stopping and continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theatre in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organised by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

A simple social experiment like this can have a powerful effect, if we let it. It’s true, in this chaotic flurry of life into which we propel ourselves each and every day, what are we missing? How many poignant moments of kindness do we miss; how many beautiful yet subtle displays of art in nature do we pass by? How many earth-swallowing sunsets do we miss? If we’re not aware of the pitfalls of our supercharged lives, we can end up missing all the tiny detail that makes life beautiful and meaningful. Isn’t this awareness of detail what makes childhood so magical? Remember the feeling of awe?

I don’t want to miss the detail. For me, this year’s about living in the moment so I can notice (and respond to) the tender detail that makes life great. For, after all, we’re only here on this planet for a wee blink. I don’t want to miss it.

What do you reckon? What do you make of this social experiment?

P. S You can watch a short clip of Bell and the social experiment here. Story found via this page.


  1. Thanks Maria. That story is a lovely and gentle reminder to stop and appreciate beauty, smell the roses or just take a moment. It will stay with me and I hope instill into my consciousness so I don't just speed up again!



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