The Lesson of nine-and-a-half minutes


Several years ago during a layover while traveling for business,  I picked up an abandoned copy of USA Today and read the short snippet below. I tore it out and have kept it pinned on the wall in my office. I have shared it many times with colleagues and assistants. Today I am going to share it with you.

Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, graduation speech at the University of Pittsburgh: “On the subway in New York, there is a train that runs the full length of Manhattan and out to Brooklyn, called the “A Train”…On that train, there’s a stretch between 59th and 125th streets without any stops…Nine-and-a-half minutes of uninterrupted time…We hired actors to pose as a passenger in trouble on the train. One of them would enter the carriage start to wobble, grab onto the hand rail and then keel over…We watched while the majority of the people hesitated, looked around, and then looked away…Make no mistake: Doing nothing is a choice in itself. And surprisingly that choice gets more likely as the size of the group grows. That’s the lesson of nine-and-a-half minutes—not much time, but enough not to act, or enough to do something that matters, to extend a human touch, change another person’s life…You can choose to act right in your own backyard, in small, meaningful ways. This was my nine-and-a-half minutes with you. I hope I used it well. Congratulations.

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