This idea of a “give and take table” was completely new to me. The Exploratorium Museum currently has this human phenomena / social behavior exhibit, and imagine a stainless steel bowl in the middle of the walkway on this podium - at that perfect height where you feel obligated to look what's inside. At first I thought it was a lost and found, but upon closer inspection it looked like a fancy bowl full of trash, containing a plastic rope, some paper, and this bright orange cloth. And like a fountain, there were some pennies at the bottom of the bowl.
Upon reading the signage, it said that if the viewer liked something in the bowl, he could take it from the bowl - but he would need to replace it with something of equal of more value. It then continued to ask the reader to look through the contents of the bowl, and ask why it may contain the items that it did. It also asked to think about the future visitors, and to add something so that the next person’s experience was different than our own.
After combing through the bowl, we decided to each leave a dollar bill instead - as we didn’t see anything of real value or anything that we wanted in the bowl. Sneakily running our own social experiment, we watched a group of high school boys approach the bowl and rummage through its contents. I couldn’t see the exact exchange, but one of the boys took one (or maybe both) of the dollars and put it in the donation exhibit adjacent to the “give and take table”. His friends made some comment, which for some reason made me think that the first boy donated the first dollar, and kept the second dollar. And then they left.
Really excited to see what he had replaced the dollars with, I was disheartened when I didn't see that he had contributed anything to the bowl. Maybe I’m naive or an idealist, but I had imagined the individual who decided to take a dollar would replace it with more money or with something more valuable. Gradually the bowl would only contain items of meaning and value, and this exhibit would be a drastically different - and perhaps an inspiring or hopeful experience for future individuals.
It took less than two minutes for one individual to put an end my dream. As I reflect on it now, previous visitors probably have tried leaving money in the bowl too, and probably similar things have happened. Even though it's good least one of the dollars went to charity, this whole scenario really made me think of the phrase "charity begins at home" since now the bowl, again, just consisted of trash.
This brought me back at that junction with the two paths again. How do you respond after witnessing something like this - do you just give up? Maybe is society just not "there yet" to think of the other people. Or perhaps this kid was thinking of others, which was why he decided to donate the money - but why didn't he add something back to the bowl? If he did pocket one dollar, would that have been OK since he donated the other dollar? Maybe he didn't have a dollar to give - but if that were the case, should he have taken the dollar from the bowl in the first place?
Or do you just keep putting as much money in the bowl as you can. Take out all the paper trash, and just fill it with cash. Do you think people - or maybe just one person - would take all the cash, and then we'd be empty again? They say that when people hear of others devoting their time and energy helping others, individuals are more likely to be inspired to go and do the same. Perhaps all we can do (and the only move) is give as much as we can, and hope to inspire and encourage others to do the same, so that eventually the givers outnumber the takers.
When things don't work out the way I want them to - when I want them to, I remind myself of the concept of delayed gratification. Reminding myself of patience, and not to be discouraged and give up the chance of a better situation in the future. Perhaps it's really just the idea of not giving up hope. But in this case, imagine if everyone worked up the courage and each inspired just one person a day to treat the world better - society better, how we could really change life and make it better. We'd have a significantly better looking bowl.