Stop and stare
A colleague sent this link to me last week which got me thinking about the way we perceive one another in our cities.
Don’t worry, it’s not a dodgy link, it’s a webpage from the actor Jeff Bridges’s website. It talks about an experiment in which one of the world’s finest violinist, Joshua Bell, went to busk (undercover) at a subway station in Washington, DC. As you would expect, the number of people that stopped to appreciate the world class music was slim to none and it raises the question – what are we missing out in our lives just because we’ve become accustomed to the things around us and have perfected our reactions towards them?
A few months ago I would have scoffed and empathised with the people who took no notice of the musician but after I found myself in a similar position in March this year, my reaction after reading the webpage was different. I volunteered to hand out free copies of the award winning book “Half of a Yellow Sun” as part of the new reading incentive World Book Night. That is of course nothing compared to what the violinist was trying to accomplish but the idea was – me outside a busy tube station handing out “free”…again, “free” books. Easy – or so I thought. I dragged along my sister for moral support and because there is safety in numbers and let’s be honest, London is too dodgy for me to be standing alone outside a station looking like a weirdo giving stuff out.
At first nobody would take the books. Despite the fact that we were nicely dressed, friendly faced young women yelling “free book for world book night”, almost everyone walked past us with their heads down, clearly trying to avoid eye contact. One woman even said “Is it religious? I don’t want anything religious,” and proceeded in stomping off anyway. A friendly rail worker then advised us to offer the books to older people as the youths wouldn’t take them. He wasn’t completely right in the end but I could see his point (he took a book for his wife just to help us out, lovely man). What made the biggest difference was when I shoved the books in people’s faces and said “free book, no catch, it’s really free.” The funny thing was, when one or two people caught on to the fact that I really wanted nothing more than for them to take the book, others started to slow down. In almost no time at all, we were heading home empty handed. Says a lot for herd mentality, right?
I wish the moral of this story was that I have learnt to stop and take notice of what people are trying to share with the rest of the world at busy places such as bus stops and stations. What wonderful things I could discover! Sadly I still hang my head low and walk past the many smiling faces who try to hand me “free” stuff because I can’t believe they have anything of interest to offer me that won’t end up costing me something (ehem, free gym membership? Not!). Maybe it’s because I’ve lived too long in cities and so despite my recent volunteering experience and reading articles such as that on Mr Bridges’s page, I revert to my perfected reactions with ease. Yes, I’ll be the first to say it, I’m a hypocrite! Sorry Mr Bridges, it’ll take more than that to change us.