Sunday, September 28, 2014

Unblinker your view

In an experiment initiated by a Washington Post columnist, Joshua Bell donned a baseball cap and jeans during the morning rush hour of 27th January 2007 and played as an incognito busker at a Metro subway station in Washington, D.C. Now this is a rather old story which you may have come across already, but I want to share some thoughts I picked up. While he played, 1 097 people walked past, but only 7 people stopped to listen to him for a minute or more, while only 1 person recognized him. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written and this with a violin worth more than $3 million. His almost 45-minute performance raised $32.17 from 27 passersby (excluding $20 from the passerby who recognized him). Three days before this, he had earned incomparably more playing the same repertoire at a sold out concert in Boston with an average cost per seat of $100.  Joshua Bell is one of the most acclaimed classical musicians of today. He is an American Grammy Award -winning violinist and conductor and was named an Indiana Living Legend receiving the Indiana Governor's Arts Award. He also received the Avery Fisher Prize, given once every few years to classical instrumentalists for outstanding achievement.

Blinkered society?
In a previous post entitled Hidden treasures walking past, I spoke about how every day we walk past hidden treasures or value that we seldom recognize because we do not make small effort to find it. The experiment above begs many questions among which are; What matters more, experience or the value inherent in the experience? Are we a heavily contextual society that only defines excellence, beauty and value by the environment and atmosphere in which we find it? Oh, but of course, it was the wrong setting, wrong audience, timing and performance outfit. It would seem to me that we have blinkers on, which make us perceive, view, see, and place value selectively. I do appreciate that people are more willing to pay for an experience, and Joshua himself alludes to the fact that performing in a noisy subway proved more difficult, as he would perform optimally when there is pin drop silence. Does excellence, perfection and beauty lose value because of context? The point was made, we do not perceive beauty or excellence for what it is, but for how we perceive it and what we have been told and made to believe it is. Under normal circumstances, headlines would have put it out there and billed the performance as a rare must see act, thereby creating hype and a sense of value, but well, no one said it was Joshua Bell performing, did they? A priceless performance for free, and it went unnoticed. What a thought provoking experiment this was. I love this experiment and what it sought to bring out in human behavior. For me, the lesson is to always 'stop and smell the coffee' as it were, without downing the cup quicker than the sugar settles. This is my challenge to you, as much as it was back then, to avoid missing the subtle excellence, beauty and value around you because it is not disguised in the packaging you expect. I believe that value within matters more than the external packaging it comes in. After all some of us rip off the gift wrapping from gifts we receive in the rush to see the gift contained therein.

Removing blinkers
A blinkered view is one where there is narrow, limited and partial awareness or vision. It is important to keep your eyes and ears open to what can be rather than what seems to be. Time is a rare commodity in our day and age, but what is life without embracing the beauty and value around us, while caught up in the rat race? Here is a few points to avoid missing excellence around you.
  1. Always keep time and space for something new to come up each day. It will make you see what others do not see.
  2. Avoid the familiarity syndrome where everything seems like dejavu, and you have been there, done that, seen or heard it before.
  3. It is not out of fashion to stop and appreciate in some way that act on the street seeking their breakthrough, they are making an honest living.
  4. Try not to have your whole life filled with work and business activities. Create free time for your mind to break out of the rut.
  5. Have a child like perspective which seeks to discover and learn always.
Second chances...
With the experimental legacy of being the subway performer who received no recognition lingering, Joshua Bell is now focusing on turning that legacy around. He is planning another public performance in the Main Hall at Washington's Union Station on the 30th of September 2014, in aid of National Young Arts Foundation, accompanied by nine students he mentored and with the goal of promoting music education. This will also coincide with the debut of his new album. I believe it will be a more memorable performance with the attention it deserves and the desired legacy.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Heart shaped head

The Scottish referendum has come and gone and the union of the United Kingdom prevailed.  It was described as a matter of head versus heart as people reminisced being part of a strong and mighty family unit with Britain, while flirting with the possibility of becoming an independent country. Head being the logical and rational part that assessed all the pros and cons and the risks of breaking away, and heart being the emotional part seeking to try something new with confidence and zeal to go it alone and explore possibilities. I would argue that the heart also meant staying within the union and being part of a 300 year old family unit as this would be an emotional side of deciding. Which would mean there were two hearts involved on opposite sides plus a single head. The referendum helped people reflect on the meaning of Scotland to them and what they wanted for their homeland going forward. When asked what Scotland meant to him, a certain gentleman said, "It is home, the place I miss when I go to places that are more fabulous than Scotland". I liked this statement a lot as I identify with it. This was the heart speaking, as he did not need to make a logical assessment of data and facts to make this conclusion. In fact the statement acknowledges that there are better places than home, but home is chosen any day and anyway. Scientifically, human beings are considered to be wired towards the heart, in decision making as this is the easiest way out.  If one tries to use the head in decision making, it means a lot of effort in assessing data and facts to come to a rational decision. Heart simply decides using a process of how one feels. Since according to my theory, the head was also supported by a heart on the same side of staying in the union, the head won or should I say the heart won? A majority of Scots chose to stay in the union, with fear of the unknown probably being the deciding factor in this case.

Here are some quotes on the workings of the head and the heart.

  • If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart - Nelson Mandela

  • A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart - Jonathan Swift

  • A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination - Nelson Mandela

  • There is a wisdom of the head, and a wisdom of the heart - Charles Dickens

  • I think there is only one quality worse than hardness of heart and that is softness of head - Theodore Roosevelt

  • Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together - John Ruskin

  • Keep your head and heart going in the right direction, and you won't have to worry about your feet- Unknown quotes 
Both the head and heart are needed in decision making and they are equally important, as some of the quotes above allude to. Every decision goes through a process based on either the head, heart or a combination of both, and being naturally inclined to make heart based decisions, most people take the easy way out and decide on how they feel. Be it buying a car, especially buying a car - statements like "can you hear the engine roar, oh check out that mean grill". Of course! And how about fuel consumption, and does it actually stop when you need it to? Out the window. More so where love is concerned, where most follow their heart more than their head. Many a friendships or family relations have been torn apart as a result of someone who is using the head, fighting a heart based decision. How though, can you fight a heart issue using the head? It is a foregone conclusion for many is it not? The heart does speak louder than the head in relational issues it seems. Over to you for now. Are you logical and rational, assessing all facts and figures and options methodically, or emotional and nostalgic, going with your gut feel? I thought about it and found that depending on situations, I use a mix of head and heart, with heart trumping head along social lines. How does head against heart pit each other in your life?

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

The great reach

When you stretch out your hand and touch or grab at something you reach for it. When you drive, ride, fly or walk and arrive at a destination, you reach the destination (this is very clearly stated by the voice in the system if you are using a GPS). When you affect and influence people across a wide geographic spectrum, you have a reach covering that audience. You reach for something, reach a destination, reach a person, reach a milestone and reach a goal. What an interesting word, REACH. Reach is a very rich word, is it not?  I was just wondering how reach applies to my own life and that of everyone else around me. What am I reaching for, who am I trying to reach and what destination will I reach with where I am facing and at my current pace? The answer was a plain and simple one. I must be on a correct path be moving not stagnant. Couple of times I have been driving and tried to reach for something in the back seat, but because I cannot simultaneously remove my eyes off the road, I miss it a couple of times, and end up stopping the car so that I can get the item. Either I reach in the wrong direction, or my reach is too short to where the item is, both which deny me my goal. If you reach out to the wrong thing you will not get the result you want and you may even get burnt, literally or figuratively, if you reach the wrong destination, you may need to re-trace your steps and re-route to the correct one. If you reach the wrong audience you may receive negative criticism and be discouraged thinking you did the wrong thing.
Everyday reach
Reach is something we do everyday of our lives knowingly or unknowingly, spoken or unspoken. In the morning I reach for the towel after a shower or bath, then reach for the shelf, rack or drawer where my clothes are. I then reach for the cereal box up in that high cupboard for a healthy breakfast and then reach for the car keys as I rush to drive out. We reach different places, the office, our house, church, conference venue or a function. We reach out to different people, our family, friends, workmates and other people, maybe because we are extroverts or we just care about them. We are always reaching for something or someone, and sometimes we find out and make peace with the fact that certain things are out of reach, and we realign our intent to reach with our possibilities. Inevitably however, at some point we reach the end of our lives. This is one destination we do not intentionally reach out for, but we find ourselves there anyway. Now the question that comes is, when you reach that point in life, would you have reached where you were going and in the process, the people you wanted to reach? I not only want to reach milestones, but I also want to reach people and places. It is a decision I have reached as I thought about the effect of reach on my life. Now you can reach your own conclusions and maybe continue on your current path, or change direction and start reaching for your goals and also reaching out to the people you need to reach in your life. Enjoy the journey and hopefully smile when you reach your destination.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Seeing is being

If I see it I can become it for my sight drives my ambition
I cannot desire what I have not seen within or outside of myself
That is why I rise up everyday to a new day and a new world

The dreams I dream matter to me and the visions I see awaken me

Whether my eyes be open or not is no hindrance to my sight

For I can still connect, share, inspire, belong, pursue and become

The people around me, their journey and success inspires me

They are building blocks of a creation process towards greatness
They give rise to energy that propels me to step towards my destiny

My destiny is firmly rooted within me to create and overcome fate

I will soar over, above and beyond, like an eagle scanning a veld 
I will dream dreams, travel places, see what I have not seen before
I will get up, lift my eyes, take a step to explore and inquire
I possess the door to my destiny, for what I see stimulates me

Let me see the creative triggers which will ignite the passion within
Come they as man-made, natural, accidental or galactic occurrences
And I will have renewed excitement, ambition, passion and drive
To be more, do more and live more. If I can see it, I can be, I can do.