S.O.P. and Unclaimed Prizes
Standard Operating Procedures
Washington Post staff writer, Gene Weingarten, staged an experiment and published the results in a 2007 article entitled, "Pearls Before Breakfast." In this experiment, world renowned concert violinst, Joshua Bell, anonymously took the space outside a Washington, D.C. Metro stop and played for an hour on his three-point-five million dollar Stradivarius in the guise of a humble street musician, with case opened before him ready to accept spare change. He performed breathtaking works with style, verve and passion. For the most part, he was completely ignored.
More than a thousand commuters passed by, most completely unaware that on that special day a virtuoso was offering them a morning unlike any other for free. Lost in their cell phones and morning cups of coffee, anticipating the day ahead, they rushed by unable to spare a moment to appreciate a very rare treat. They were acting under their Standard Operating Procedures, also known as autopilot. Having learned how to negotiate the morning, they no longer needed to be present in the moment. Being absent, they could focus on the myriad details demanding attention in their minds, concerns that more than likely would never come to pass but demanded their attention nonetheless. Is this perhaps where stress is born? Giving half-hearted attention to meaningless tasks, allowing for opportunities for absent-minded error while worries and concerns take center stage? One thing is for certain, Standard Operating Procedures allow us to be anywhere but here, now.
The Gifts of the Universe
Standard Operating Procedures and Best Use Practices have their place; they protect us from our own inexperience and preferences. They save us from having to reinvent the wheel and keep everyone on the same page. However, when we surrender our autonomy we cease to offer our unique gifts to the people in our lives, stop questioning rules that run rough shod over commen sense and human dignity, and miss many of the countless gifts offered to us. How many of the commuters who sped through the metro terminal that morning had at some time said to themselves, "I never get out or try new things!"
Life is richer when you pause to look through the community bulletin board, stop to talk to a stranger, look up in the city or look down in the garden. Gifts aren't always presents and promotions, sometimes they are rainbows and sunsets. Sometimes being caught in a rainstorm unprepared is more thrilling than a nuisance. Sometimes an overheard conversation or a song lyric lends insight and grace to our situations. Life can be magical, celebrities take subways, loose money is sometimes found on the street, and the thing we have been searching for is suddenly spotted in a window display. Being present in the moment gives us the ability to be spontaneous and take advantage of surprise windfalls. Less thinking and more being will keep joy from vanishing in your rearview mirror, dejected and ignored.