For Immediate Release
Date: Oct 7th, 2010
Contact: Dr. John Thompson
I’m in a Hurry!
The Washington, DC Metro station was cold on a January morning in 2007. A man with a violin played six Bach pieces over a 45 minute period and during that time approximately 2,000 people passed through the station, most on their way to work. It was three minutes before anyone noticed the musician and one man slowed his pace, stopped for a few seconds and then resumed his schedule. It was four minutes before the violinist received his first dollar when a woman threw the money at the hat and continued to walk.
At six minutes a young man leaned against the wall and listened, looked at his watch and started to walk again. He had played for 10 minutes when a three-year old boy stopped, but his mother hurried him along. The action was repeated by several children. Every parent, without exception forced their children to move on quickly.
The musician played continuously and only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money, but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32 and as he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He had played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.
This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities. There were three questions raised:
· In a common place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
· Do we stop to appreciate it?
· Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made. How many other things are we missing? 1
The “Information Age” has created the opportunity for us to deluge ourselves with both relevant and useless information. To compensate, we have the delusion that we are all “multi-taskers” when the reality of real scientific study indicates that only 3% of us have any real ability to do so. It was about ten years ago that I figured out that I was not in that miniscule category. Six years ago, Carole and I bought a home on a small South Carolina Island. There is no bridge and no real possibility of one ever being built. It is accessed by a ferry ride from Hilton Head Island. There is a mini- grocery and we have the “Dirt Road Diner” and “Marshside Mama’s”. Marshside Mama’s is a roadhouse with no road. That 45 minute ferry ride is a trip to 40 years back in time. I always tell people “The ferry is the filter!”. Anyone that complains about that ferry ride should not spend time on this island as they will go crazy. There is no shopping, cell phone service is very limited and in fact we just wait for the electricity to go off when it storms.
We have finally learned to “kick back”, truly relax and unwind on an island. That is the antithesis of our life at home in Kentucky. While I know I would stop and listen to an unexpected banjo or harmonica concert on an island, I suspect that I would shuttle by a spontaneous Joshua Bell masterworks concert in my own backyard. It is really shameful that our perception of value has deteriorated to the point that we will break off a face to face conversation at dinner, interrupt a movie, a lecture or even a church service to answer a cell phone’s obnoxious ringtone. We are conditioning ourselves, like Pavlov’s dogs, to be distracted.
The practice of dentistry requires our focused attention to meticulous detail over protracted periods of time. We are required to remain students of our art and science for as much as 50 years. We are forced to be counter cultural in order to be proficient in our profession. I do love all the new toys that make our work more interesting, more efficient, more effective and, quite honestly, more fun, but it still comes down to our being able to focus on the exacting service we are providing our patients. Dentists need a switch that can turn off cultural conditioning in order to really enjoy the opportunity to work with interesting people. If we are able to find that switch, focus on providing the best care and service for those that put their trust in us, we set ourselves apart as a valuable personal service. It is so rare in today’s service sector. It is a paradox of life that when we don’t look for what makes us happy, but rather find that what we do best that makes other people happy, we are happy.
The more that I slow down and listen to my wife, my patients, my staff, my partners and those that I consider my circle of friends, the more I am enjoying life. It is interesting that the more I slow my golf swing down the better I play golf… is there a connection? It is summer and a time for you to slow down. Take the time to identify what is important to you and commit your time and focus to those things. We pick up too much baggage as we go through life and it is too hard to carry it all. Dump those things that don’t make a difference for yourself and others that you care about.
By the way, my new obnoxious ringtone is by that great group of southern rock philosophers collectively known as “Alabama”. If you hear “I’m in a hurry and don’t know why …”2 at a dental meeting or restaurant, it’s probably me. I hope you are having a good day, I am.
1. Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post received a Pulitzer Prize in feature writing for this piece on April 8, 2008.
2. American Pride, Label: BMG Released: January 1, 1992.I'm in a hurry to get things done
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why.