Unburied Treasure

Having traversed some fairly controversial and emotionally charged topics in recent weeks, my post this week will, I hope, not find readers who disagree.

The post is inspired by a workplace construction flyer.  There is a service called “Dial Before you Dig” which allows references to be provided for underground cables and pipes provided by utility owners.  The message of this brochure was that you never know what lies underground, and that caution should be taken to avoid injury or damage to infrastructure by checking its location prior to undertaking works.    

Sometimes a small headline can provoke a very insightful chiddish.  The brocure reminds us that we don’t know what lies underground.  A bit of planning prior to digging can be a very productive use of time.  We have to have in mind what we see in front of us as much as we have to consider that which is hidden from view.  

In Western Australia we do a lot of digging.  There are tremendous amounts of valuable resources under the vast tracts of land in our State.   New discoveries are made through prospecting ventures every week.  Why is it that these resources have not been previously discovered?  The most evident answer would no doubt be that they are not visible from the surface.  Sometimes there are hints based on the topography of the land.  However it is not until drilling and testing takes place that conclusive results can be drawn as to what sits below the surface of our land.

Deep in thought, I started to consider what it was about the land we see in front of us, and what it camouflages in the way of value that sits beneath the surface. 

I once read a story as follows: 

During the middle of winter a man sat at a subway station in Washington DC and started to play the violin. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.

It was rush hour, and during that hour at least 1,000 people passed the busker, most of them on their way to work. Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing.  He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.  A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip.  A woman threw a few coins into the hat and continued to walk on.  A few minutes later, a man leaned against a wall to listen to the musician, but after looking at his watch he walked away.  Clearly he was running late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3-year-old boy.  Obviously in a hurry, the mother tugged at the boy, but the kid stopped to listen to the violinist.  Finally, the mother gave a hard push and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time.  This action was repeated by several other children.  All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for a while.  About 20 people gave him money but continued to walk.  He collected $32 when he was finished playing.  Silence took over, no one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.No one knew the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world.  He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million.  Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theatre in Boston where the seats cost an average of $100.

Joshua Bell’s incognito performance in the subway station was organised by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about people’s perception, taste and priorities.

The purpose was to see if, in a commonplace environment, at an unusual hour, in an unexpected location, how many people perceive beauty, stop to appreciate it and recognise talent.

I’m not sure why I was reminded of this story while staring at a brochure about the risk of electrical cables under the ground.  However I’m sure it has to do with those things that are hidden from our naked eye of sight, yet are potentially very important or valuable to us. 

The analogy for the Perth Jewish community is that we have many hidden treasures in front of us.  They are the people who create social capital, perform mitzvot, share their knowledge, and run institutions.  Sometimes we don’t stop to notice that we have a world class Jewish community driven by world class leaders.  Sometimes we just take it all for granted without realising the quality of the people who are standing right in front of us.  To access the best of Jewish community life, we don’t have to dig to find it.  Our resources are not buried or out of sight.  They are standing in front of us, staring us in the face, if only we care to stop and notice.

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