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Lessons From the Subway: Joshua Bell and the Cues of Life

March 6, 2013

What you see often is not what is.

Cues in life direct our daily split-decision making moments, allowing us to move forward without dedicating ample time and energy to figuring out our surroundings in drowned out stimulation.

Many social cues of life are universal, where no matter what language you speak you’re likely to make similar assumptions in a given situation. Take, for instance, when one of the world’s greatest violinists, Joshua Bell, played incognito in a Washington D.C. subway station during rush hour for 40 minutes. Only 7 people stopped and he earned 59$ dollars–including a $20 from the one woman who recognized him among approximately 2000 people–where day’s prior he had filled Boston’s Symphony Hall where average seats sold for $100.

It’s a clever social experiment concocted by Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post to test perception, taste and people’s priorities. In retrospect, one may speculate that people would no doubt rush by without notice on their way to work, but the elegance lies in what it reveals about our daily habits and both the message and how it is delivered.

Raising questions of intrigue, such as, in a commonplace environment do we perceive beauty? If so, do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in unexpected context? And most importantly, what else are we missing as we rush through life allowing social cues to guide?

A bright light shines on how cues of life are deeply embedded in our expectations and shaped by situational circumstance. In essence, the study exemplifies the fact that we often pass through our day blind to realities presented being guided by cues of life we’ve come to accept rather than the reality of many hidden wonders.

Liberate Reality

Essential ingredients to joyful living are curiosity matched with revelation. You don’t have to physically slow your pace to perceive the world in new light.

Remember that the cues of life have been created by society and bear no truth to the beauties of the natural world and phenomenon that pass us daily. Take the simple measure of conscious note and remind yourself there is often more to what you see–liberate reality and revel in newfound revelations.

We don’t necessarily need to slow down, but increase our objective attention to our surroundings. How many wonders of life are passed by simply because they don’t fit in a category of cues that strike our attention? What are you missing and what do you want to see more of in your life?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Alex Jones permalink
    March 9, 2013 4:41 am

    Part of being able to awaken the mind is to create novelty. Doing the same thing day in day out the mind switches out the boring trivia of sameness, only becoming alert when something is different. By changing routines, by doing challenging new activities each day the mind is shaken into alertness to appreciate the world around it.

  2. March 12, 2013 11:06 am

    So true, waking up to what is really in front of us, rather than living in our head and in our thoughts…’s a lifetimes work 🙂 But what pleasure can then be found in each small moment, rather than a constant searching for the elusive future

    • March 12, 2013 12:07 pm

      You put it well. Waking up to what’s in front of us means a conscious disconnection from the dazed and jaded autopilot directing our lives – it awakens the ability to see anew, which awakens the world to us in divine light. Thanks for the words.

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