Excellent piece in the Washington Post (seconded by Paul Kedrosky) in which the Post’s staff conducted an experiment: to see how much money and attention one of the world’s greatest classical musicians could command by busking (playing for spare change) during rush hour. They convinced Joshua Bell to participate, with his trusty Stradivarius, and captured it all via a hidden camera (the article has some of the clips embedded in the story page). Read the story for the end results but, let’s just say, it’s a stark reminder of how great a role context plays in how we perceive and address situations.
In the comments to Paul K’s piece, someone points to the blog of a real NYC busker and her reaction to the experiment (basically that busking takes different skills than concert performance, which is valid but I still think misses the point about context).
Context matters. A lot. It’s why I think Babe Ruth is the greatest ballplayer ever (he hit more home runs, during the dead ball era, than entire teams). It’s why we can’t imagine how our forbears could have tolerated, encouraged and even enjoyed what we now consider to be barbaric practices. My friend Ricky is a high school teacher and a great essay topic he gives his class is to name practices or customs that we follow in our time for which we will be castigated by future generations.