On a recent trip to San Francisco, I saw a man lying on the sidewalk. I had just crossed a street that borders Union Square and was focused on some dressed-up mannequins propped in a store window when I noticed his body and a cane beside him. Throngs of tourists walked by, some who didn’t notice or ignored the body, and others who seemed to take note yet moved to the opposite edge of the sidewalk, staring at him as they walked on.
As a New Yorker, I’m no stranger to the sight of a homeless person lying asleep on the sidewalk. But this was different. This man was dressed in unblemished clothes with rugged-soled shoes, and he did not look like he was taking a mid-morning snooze. I approached him gingerly, and asked, “Sir, are you okay?” I saw that his hand was a pale shade of blue and since he didn’t respond, I quickly ran into the nearest shop doorway to ask someone to call 911 with their address. Once I confirmed that the store manager was on it, I left, bewildered that no one had stopped to help this man who was clearly in need of emergency medical assistance.
As I walked on, I thought to myself: Are we becoming so detached that we barely notice a human life in peril?
Are we so distracted by our cellphone conversations, tweets and selfies that we are missing the happenings in front of our eyes—including the ones that are beautiful?
In 2007, The Washington Post published an article about an experiment they conducted to see if people were so focused on their destination that they were unable—in this case—to stop and enjoy some music. On a cold January morning, a violinist entered a Washington D.C. metro station and played six classical music pieces during the morning rush hour. After 43 minutes, more than 1,000 people had passed by, with only seven stopping to listen for at least a minute. Only young children had tried to stop and take in the music, though for every child there was an adult who dragged them by the hand to keep on walking.
What these metro riders didn’t realize was that the violinist was the world-famous Joshua Bell, who had sold out a Boston Symphony concert several nights earlier—average ticket price was around $100—and he was playing one of the most complicated Bach concertos on a violin that was worth over $3 million.
Yes, we are all busy and have people to speak with, things to finish and places to get to. So how we can find a way to be more present to what is happening right around us?
Here are a few tips to remind you to slow down and reconnect with your surroundings:
Being aware of our surroundings takes some focus and attention, and keeps us attuned to our body and environment. Try it—you may discover that what you’ve been walking by every single day is particularly beautiful.