Joshua Bell is a man a lot of people pay big bucks to hear make love to his violin. The gentlemen don tuxedos, and the damsels on their arms take out their tiaras and Tiffany pearls, Christian Dior sashes, fur shawls, and long white gloves. In January 2007, Bell sold out a theater in Boston at $100 a ticket. All present listened in rapt attention.
Two days later Bell took his $3.5 million Stradivarius and headed for an underground Metro station in Washington, D.C. He threw open his violin case, tossed in few bucks, and started playing complex and unearthly Bach pieces. He played for 45 minutes to foot traffic that numbered 1,097 people, of whom only seven stopped. Hidden cameras caught several cases of small children wanting to stop and listen and mothers tugging them away. Bell took home $32.17 (see video clip below).
There are various lessons you might derive from this social experiment by The Washington Post.You can theorize that the tux and tiara set are phonies who merely go to Carnegie Hall to enhance their social status and care nothing for classical music. You can conclude that the acoustics in subways must be lousy. You can surmise that morning rush hour in the L’Enfant Plaza of the nation’s capital is a lousy time and place for busking.
What I personally thought of was the almost limitless capacity of human beings to be swayed by other human beings’ views of what is valuable and what is not. I am old enough to remember the Pet Rock craze, and my Aunt Simone standing in line in December of 1975 to buy an ordinary gray stone that came in a box with air holes and straw and instructions for teaching your Pet Rock to “sit” and “stay” and “roll over” (with a little help from you). The rocks cost Gary Dahl a penny each, and he sold 5 million of them to mothers indulging the pleading of their children for $3.95 each.
Jesus once rebuked His critics, saying, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). I would say that this is the great challenge of all Christians in every age—to be doggedly committed to living our lives according to every word in Scripture rather than according to what every Tom, Dick, and Harry says or thinks is right and important. Many have overlooked a “Stradivarius”-quality person because we met him shabbily dressed or in a setting where we did not expect to find gold:
“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy …” (Hebrews 11:37-38).