Making Time for What Really Matters

A few years ago, the Washington Post made an arrangement with Joshua Bell, one of the best violinists in the world, to play incognito as a street busker at the Metro subway station L'Enfant Plaza in Washington, D.C., during the morning rush-hour.

What happened?

Asked to predict the outcome if one of the world's great violinists performed incognito before a traveling rush-hour audience of 1,000-odd people, Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, responded: "I don't think that if he's really good, he's going to go unnoticed. He'd get a larger audience in Europe … but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening."

And how much will he make?

"About $150."

In fact, out of 1,097 people who passed by, only seven stopped to listen, at least for a short time. (All the children who passed by wanted to stop and listen, but their parents hurried them on.) Excluding $20 given him by a woman who was at a concert of his three weeks earlier, and recognized him, he was given $32.17 over a period of 43 minutes. Most passers-by didn't even slow down.

Read the whole article here.

So, what does that tell us? That we can't recognize greatness? Or perhaps rather, we don't have time for it, time to recognize, appreciate, seek it? I think the latter is more accurate. Americans have a history of pragmatism, and for many of us, urgent practical matters tend to exercise a tyranny over less urgent, less practical, yet intrinsically more worth while goods and activities. (This tendency is growing in Europe, as well.)

Though we recognize at some level the difference between things worth pursuing for their own sake, and things which are practical necessities, but may marginalize it when it comes to making concrete decisions. Ironically, a helpful analysis has come in the framework of ways to be "effective" or "successful", which name, as such,
the attainment of practical goals. Stephen Covey distinguishes four classes of tasks (things we are considering doing): (1) those which are important and urgent; (2) those which are important, but not urgent; (3) those which are urgent but not important; (4) those which are neither urgent nor important.

We are unlikely to neglect the first type (unless we really don't consider them important at all). But very often we prioritize the third type of tasks or duties (those which are urgent, though not important) to the neglect of the second (those which are important, but not urgent). (One basic reason for this is that we naturally place greater priority on urgent things or things close at hand than they objectively deserve according to a reasoned consideration–more on this in another post). Once we draw this tendency to our attention, we can seek a solution. When we take note that urgent activities tend to draw all our attention to themselves, at the expense of important but non-urgent activities, we can, as a consequence, mentally re-evaluate the urgency of these activities: (it's not in itself urgent to read this spiritual book TODAY, to make a retreat THIS MONTH, to find a spiritual director RIGHT AWAY, to write that letter NOW, etc., but if I don't do it now (or in the respective time period) I'm likely to put it off unduly long, so in the long term view it actually IS urgent.)

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Favorable Interpretation

This post is a follow up to the previous post on judging favorably concerning other persons, the related video on seeing the best in them, and also occasioned by a discussion on another blog (platitudes in attitudes, no longer online).

The fact is, if we are inclined to the more favorable judgment in matters where the truth is unclear, or to the extent that the truth is not perfectly clear, we will also overall be more correct, not less. If someone says something that seems false, we are more likely to understand them correctly if we suppose that they have some reason for saying what they do. Similarly, if we see someone do something that seems bad, and don't know their intention, it is not only more charitable, but probably more truthful, to suppose that they have some good intention.

Judging Favorably

As promised, this post is on seeing the best in people–judging them charitably, or favorably, rather than indifferently or strictly.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains in an article on favorable judgment, "whether doubtful matters should always be interpreted in the more favorable way", that when a person's fault is not manifest, we should always tend more to judge him in a positive light, to interpret his action in the most favorable light, rather than in the way that is most likely to be true.

But how can that be? St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says, "Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love, and do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie." If charity seeks the truth, how can a incorrect judgment really be the charitable judgment?

St. Thomas gives a twofold explanation. On the one hand, it pertains directly to charity to think well of another person when possible, and is contrary to charity to think badly of another possible when not necessary. And on the other hand, it is not a serious problem to be mistaken about a truth such as whether or not someone did something bad. It is a serious matter to be mistaken about universal truths about ourselves and the world (e.g., to be mistaken about whether man has a soul, whether he can be responsible for his actions, etc.), but a mistake about some particular thing is only incidentally bad, and thus when the matter is not clear, but is doubtful, then the consideration of charity or love prevails.