America’s Got Talent: The Champions aired for the first time early this year and was ranked number one in viewership. Over ten million viewers from around the world tuned in to be entertained and inspired by individuals who courageously shared their unique gifts. Contestants’ hopes were high as they aspired to not only win the million-dollar prize, but to be discovered and to obtain lucrative contracts, thereby realizing their dreams. Judges and viewers prided themselves in spotting greatness as they voted for the contestants they deemed to be among the most talented.
This was not the case on a cold winter’s morning in January of 2007 on a platform of a busy subway in Washington D.C. Virtuoso violinist, Joshua Bell, dressed in jeans, a tee shirt, and a baseball cap played his 3.5 million dollar Stradivarius violin for 45 minutes during rush hour. As part of a social experiment being conducted by the Washington Post on perception, awareness, and priorities, Joshua agreed to play 6 pieces of Bach. The same pieces he performed two days earlier at a sold out concert in Boston. Did the thousands of people who walked by Bell notice or appreciate his talent? Surprisingly, very few people did. Six individuals thought Bell was homeless and threw money in his open violin case as they scurried by. Two adults paused for a few seconds and continued to go next door to a convenience store to buy lottery tickets, and 2 children around the age of 3 at separate times did take notice and wanted to watch, but were pulled along by their parents.
Neuroscientist, Dr. Shermer, was not surprised by the Washington Post experiment. After years of research and study, Shermer concludes that our brains are meaning making machines. He explains, “Our brains evolved to connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain our experiences…why things happen. These meaningful patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost of further confidence in the beliefs and, thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive feedback loop of belief confirmation.” Dr. Shermer’s work dispels the belief that our responses are primarily driven by external stimuli. For example, the behavior or actions of another is the cause of what I am experiencing physically and emotionally and the justification of my reactions (please note this information is not intended to be applied to physical or verbal abusive behavior of another).
Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity, reminds us that our consciousness is pivotal: “The conscious can look in two directions—to the outer world where the thoughts that rise within it give sensation and feeling, which ultimate in a moving panorama of visibility; or to the world within, whence all of its life, power, meaning and intelligence are derived.” This is why Fillmore professed, “The most important study was of our mind not only the intellectual mind but the spiritual mind.” It is only through self-knowledge that we can be true Masters. It is by becoming present and keenly aware of what we are experiencing in consciousness, thought, belief, emotion, word, and action, that we can make choices that are grounded in Principle and embody what we value. Which also empowers us to seek to understand others rather than making assumptions and spewing our judgments and criticisms onto them.
As you go about your day, check-in with yourself and ask the following:
- What Am I feeling?
- What thoughts and beliefs am I assigning to my present experience?
- What do I value and want to be present to in this experience?
- What is the person(s) before me feeling and wanting?
Daily devotion to self- awareness of deeply held beliefs and being honest about the conclusions you are wanting to defend and support is vital to living a life of personal empowerment and leads to the desire to connect, respect, and understand others even when we may hold a different view. I am thrilled that 18 individuals from our community are currently participating in the Navigating my Way Through Conflict series, and I am delighted that Rev. Michelle Synegal will be presenting a powerful Sunday lesson and workshop on unconscious bias on June 23rd. These opportunities and many others to come will help to support you in becoming more keenly self-aware and empower you to seek to connect and understand others. When we are asleep, we behave like the D.C. subway riders failing to notice the greatness that is within and is present right in front of our eyes.