August 2013

On perception, tastes and priorities

We all judge those around us, but don’t judge until you know the whole truth, writes Taylor Mills.

BY Taylor Mills

“Most of us have grown up seeing the world as a place of limitation rather than as a place of inexhaustible treasures. A world of competition rather than of co-creation.” (Anonymous)

Perceptions vary from person to person. Different people perceive different things about the same situation. But more than that, we assign different meanings to what we perceive. And the meanings might change for a certain person. One might change one’s perspective or simply make things mean something else.

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 instrumental pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of 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 a 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 and without stopping, 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 three-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 six 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, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the top musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth $3.5 million. Two days before playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theatre in Boston and the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing undercover in the metro station was organised by The Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people.

The questions that arose from this experiment were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognise 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 ignoring and missing in our own lives?

People’s perceptions skew their view of everything in the world. Their perceptions cause the world to be different from what the world is really like.

This story illustrates the issues associated with perception and how it changes what people decide about things. All of us are subject to a point of view and a perception about everything in the world. We all just have to learn to not let the perception of those around us cloud our judgement about the individual.

I was recently listening to the radio when I started singing along to “Wake Me Up” by Avicii. I had no idea of the words and so I looked them up.

“So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn’t know I was lost”

It was then that I realised the true meaning of the song. The song is all about himself and realising that he doesn’t want to make the same mistakes of his past. He is looking back at his youth and seeing how his perception of the world crowded his judgement.

The meaning of something will change when you look at it differently. You can look at anything differently and it will have a different meaning. If you remember anything from what I’ve said today, please remember this. We all judge those around us. We all just need to learn to see things from another perspective; don’t judge until you know the whole truth.

Taylor Mills

Taylor Mills is a Year 11 student from Stella Maris College, Manly. This is the text of an address she delivered to a recent college assembly.

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