You’ve probably seen this. It was a social experiment done six years ago, to see if anyone would stop to listen to Joshua Bell play the violin during their morning commute.
I see it pop up every so often on Facebook, and when it appeared in my feed again this week, I looked up the old article in the Washington Post.
In it, you can read about the reactions (or lack of reactions) of various passers-by, but what struck me today were Bell’s comments:
“At a music hall, I’ll get upset if someone coughs or if someone’s cellphone goes off. But here, my expectations quickly diminished. I started to appreciate any acknowledgment, even a slight glance up. I was oddly grateful when someone threw in a dollar instead of change.” This is from a man whose talents can command $1,000 a minute.
Before he began, Bell hadn’t known what to expect. What he does know is that, for some reason, he was nervous.
“It wasn’t exactly stage fright, but there were butterflies,” he says. “I was stressing a little.”
Bell has played, literally, before crowned heads of Europe. Why the anxiety at the Washington Metro?
“When you play for ticket-holders,” Bell explains, “you are already validated. I have no sense that I need to be accepted. I’m already accepted. Here, there was this thought: What if they don’t like me? What if they resent my presence . . .”
If not universal, it’s certainly a common fear, isn’t it? The first day of school, the new job, every time we stretch ourselves wondering if we’ll be accepted or rejected, even when we are sure of our abilities. Like Bell, we wonder, “What if they don’t like me?”
Because, sometimes, they don’t. We could be Joshua Bell, one of the world’s finest violinists, playing a Stradivarius, and still be ignored, a mere irritant to people with other things on their mind, other agendas, and no interest in us.
“Not everybody is going to like you,” I used to tell my children, “And that’s okay. You won’t like everyone you meet, either.”
Easier to say than accept.