No One Is Blinder Than He Who Will Not See
by Alexander Green

Last April in Washington D.C., a young man in blue jeans and a T-shirt emerged from the metro and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket.

He removed a violin from a small case, threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, and began to play.

Over the next 45 minutes, more than 1,000 people passed by. Six minutes elapsed before anyone stopped to listen. A crowd never gathered. In fact, only seven people stopped to listen for a minute or more. When he was finished, the young man collected the few extra dollars from his violin case and left.

What's so unusual about this? Nothing, apparently.

However, the violinist was no ordinary street performer. It was Joshua Bell, one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written, on one of the most valuable violins ever created, a $3.5 million Stradivarius made in the 1710s.

He was participating in an experiment on "perception and priorities" arranged by The Washington Post.

Three days before, Bell had sold out Boston's Symphony Hall, where the cheap seats went for $100 apiece. Two weeks later, he played to a standing-room-only audience at the Music Center at Strathmore, in North Bethesda.

Just how good is Joshua Bell? One prominent music magazine says his playing "does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live."

Despite his genius, not 1% of more than 1,000 passers-by stopped to listen for even one minute.

Some folks, of course, will attribute this to the general public's abysmal taste in music. But I think something more was going on here. And it has nothing to do with musical tastes or even the hectic pace of modern life.

After all, Helen Keller noticed much the same thing more than 70 years ago - and she was deaf and blind. Writing in The Atlantic Monthly in 1933, she said,

"Recently I was visited by a very good friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, and I asked her what she had observed. 'Nothing in particular,' she replied. I might have been incredulous had I not been accustomed to such responses, for long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little.

"How was it possible, I asked myself, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing of note? I who cannot see find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch. I feel the delicate symmetry of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly about the smooth skin of a birch, or the rough, shaggy, bark of a pine. In spring I touch the branches of trees hopefully in search of a bud... I feel the delightful, velvety texture of a flower... I am delighted to have the cool waters of a brook rush through my open fingers. To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.

"If I can get so much pleasure from mere touch, how much more beauty must be revealed by sight. Yet, those who have eyes apparently see little. The panorama of color and action which fills the world is taken for granted. It is human, perhaps, to appreciate little that which we have and to long for that which we have not, but it is a great pity that in the world of light the gift of sight is used only as a mere convenience rather than a means of adding fullness to life."

I won't comment further on these two stories. They speak volumes by themselves.

However, I will add one brief quote from John Horgan, author of "Rational Mysticsm":

"The best spiritual advice is the simplest: Pay attention. See! Or rather, cherish. Cherish what you have before it's gone."

Carpe Diem,


P.S. I'd like to thank Spiritual Wealth reader Bob Goodhand for bringing the Washington Post experiment to my attention. And thanks, too, to all of you who have sent comments and suggestions over the past few weeks. Because we've received several hundred letters, it has not been possible to respond to you all personally. However, my publisher Alex Williams forwards all of your comments to me and I've enjoyed reading them. Thanks for your kind words - and for your suggestions, too. I plan to use many of them in future columns.

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Author's Bio: 

What is “Spiritual Wealth,” exactly?
According to Alex:
"Anything that can be measured in dollars and cents, I call material wealth. Everything else – the love of our families, the health we enjoy, the time we spend doing things we enjoy or working on things that really matter – I call spiritual wealth."

Alex is also the Chairman of Investment U, where his actionable investment ideas are published three times a week. He’s the Investment Director of The Oxford Club, as well, where he’s beaten the S&P 500 nearly 5-to-1 over the last five years.