Learning from lame moral lessons on Facebook (the Joshua Bell story)

A lot of people are harping around this story of expert violinist Joshua Bell who went barely unnoticed as a busker at a Washington DC metro station and how we’ve lost sight of the beauty of music, how we don’t stop to recognize talent, etc. The real lesson of this story isn’t so much about stopping for a moment or missing out of life’s pleasures or even recognizing talent. It’s really about how we fundamentally are as human beings, how we naturally perceive things one way and not the other.

In short, this story is about the nature of human beings, not about the future of who we can become. If you really want to learn from this, begin to turn the points around as normal behaviour:

  • We ascribe greater value to things when they’re priced higher (i.e. Metro Station vs. Concert Hall, see http://bit.ly/PaPPx)
  • We are naturally self-centred, and we perceive things based on our social context (see Tom Vanderbilt’s modal bias article on cyclists vs. cars http://bit.ly/dWW7ZI)
  • We are also a social species, and there’s been a lot of studies done around crowd or group behaviour, and a crowded space like like a Metro station influence certain behavioural tendencies (http://bit.ly/r0svv)
  • How we perceive each other as individuals also have a ‘framing’ effect (busker vs. talented musician), so the whole moral aspect to this this interplay of roles is really quite pointless (http://bit.ly/190z3w)

If you want to learn from this story, don’t focus on the morals themselves as they can come from *anywhere*. Focus on understanding our who we are as human beings, imperfections and all – our behaviours tend not to change, but changing environments and contexts (which is easier to do) can help shape and align those behaviours toward good.

Either that or I should stop clicking on lame stuff people post on Facebook.

2 responses

  1. Good points! Also, presumably people who choose to go to watch a violinist at a concert hall are a self-selected sample of people who like violin music, and choose to ‘appreciate it’ by going to watch (listen?) in a formal context – most of the people wandering around a tube station are NOT going to be classical music fans.

    Also, good luck giving up clicking through those lame facebook links…

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