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May 07, 2007
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

Standing at Inattention

Is there one among us who has failed to notice the increasing tendency of our fellow Americans, and fellow humans in most other cultures, to pay less and less attention to direct interaction with our friends, our families and our coworkers? Just go for a walk and you will see people with implants in their ears conducting conversations in loud voices. They appear not to be paying attention to where they are, how to steer the shopping cart or how much they may be disturbing other people at the restaurant.

Presumably, most of these people are actually using a cellular phone, although one is left to wonder if some of them may not be simply carrying on an active conversation in a loud voice with their one and only friend — themselves.

How many of us while riding in a car have looked over to our left or right to see someone driving while simultaneously putting on eye make-up, reading a newspaper, shaving or talking on a cell phone with one hand while gesturing with the other?

The fact is that in the increasingly mad rush to multitask, we lose sight of the peace and beauty around us, and in our family and work relationships. We may also be endangering our lives.

The Washington Post recently conducted a most interesting experiment in which the HR Doctor and the HR Daughter Elyse took special interest. The amazing and world-renowned violinist, Joshua Bell, perhaps the greatest classical violinist of his generation, is a young, dynamic, handsome and amazing fiddle player.

At the behest of the Post, he took his multi-million dollar, 17th century Stradivarius violin into a Washington, D.C. subway station and played on a Friday morning. Bell opened the violin case, threw a few coins and dollar bills into the case as “seed money” and, dressed in casual  attire, proceeded to play amazing music for about 40 minutes.

Before the experiment began some people were asked what they might expect a famous musician imitating a street musician to earn for an hour of performance in a subway. One famous orchestra conductor, not knowing that the Post was speaking about Joshua Bell, expected the amount to be perhaps $150, with a lot of people stopping and appreciating the tremendous artistry.

Suffice it to say, with hidden cameras rolling and various Washington Post reporters standing ready to interview comatose passersby, Bell began playing pieces as difficult and beautiful as the Bach Chaconne and Shubert’s Ave Maria.

What do you suppose happened? Out of a thousand people who walked by, one person — that would be the smallest unit of measure available in a crowd — recognized the world-famous musician, and this occurred very near the end of his playing. She told him that she had recently seen him in concert and how brilliant his performance had been. She stopped briefly to listen and then put $20 in the violin case and said to him, “I’m sorry.”

When he finished playing, Bell had exactly $32.17 in his violin case. Hardly anyone had stopped even briefly to listen. The Washington Post reporters heard people tell them how preoccupied they were, how they had other things to do, how they were running late, or, or, or… What they were really telling the reporters was that they live in a world in which they have allowed distractions to push out opportunities. They have been swamped by a tsunami of preoccupation. They are inattentive and are essentially, as the HR Doctor likes to say, cast members of Night of the Living Dead.

The thousand-person sampling included teenagers with head phones covering the areas formally occupied by their ears, by cell phone listeners, and no doubt by others fearing that the violin sounds they were hearing were really a prelude to an attack by some classical music terrorists, and they had to flee as quickly as possible to avoid catastrophic injury which would result if they listened. Only one general group heard and noticed — children — whose parents kept them rushing ahead.

The lessons from this experiment are important. They probably start inside each of us personally. Make it a point to “tune-in” not only to our business responsibilities, which may include being super-glued to a computer monitor, or using a cell phone, or commuting while trying to be anonymous, but also to other things around us that may be much more important to our happiness and our personal success and survival. It may be the sound of a bird we hear singing on a tree limb on a chilly, urban morning.

Stop and take a moment to appreciate that wonder. It may be watching some dogs frolic in a dog park or children playing as you walk by. It may be deliberately visiting national parks or watching the sun set or rise to balance your hectic paper-clip filled day with beauty beyond anyone of us — perhaps just listening to Joshua Bell play the Four Seasons by Vivaldi.

Beyond that is the importance of a renewed vow in words followed by deeds to tune in more to your family and to your relationships with neighbors, other members of the community and your work colleagues.

When was the last time you had dinner with that person who should be very important in your life — the next door neighbor? That would be the person or family that should be there to help you in a personal emergency at home or warn you that you’re violating water restrictions by having your sprinklers turned on at the wrong time.

The HR Doctor has mentioned in prior articles how Americans watch television an average of four hours a day but spend perhaps four minutes a day in private one-on-one coaching with their child. Tune in to the fact that this sad and silly situation is not only amazingly dumb but it is also dangerous in terms of the shaping of the future of the next generation. If we are not there to be the mentors and primary agents in the development of our children’s attitudes, spirit and curiosity, who will be? Contestants on world wrestling? Don Imus? Jerry Springer? Or perhaps worse, no one.

The employee who is disaffected and disengaged to the extreme will not perform well and will take up increasing time for the supervisor. The person will “present” as increasingly scary at work and display anomalies which are really warning signs of trouble ahead. Disengagement from others and the beauty around us in the world is a sad waste which need not occur! Put down the paper clips long enough to recognize and appreciate other people and other works of nature.

Bring a violin to work. Even if you can’t play and never open the case. The HR Doctor has a guitar hanging from one wall in his office. It is not there to be played necessarily. It is a reminder that there is more to life than can ever be appreciated by shutting out sounds and sights of beautiful things!

Phil Rosenberg

The HR Doctor •


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