Lessons From NY Cookie Monsters
Posted by Shephali Patel on Jul 24, 2008
After our gift-economy cookie stand last weekend, I was thinking that we’ve gotten pretty adept at this whole mass giveaway thing. There have been a couple of indications:
1. We secure the hard-earned respect of the hard-core loonies.
Any long-time New Yorker will tell you that the so-called “crazy” people that you encounter in the city are not actually crazy at all. In fact, they know exactly what they are doing and are putting up a somewhat riveting performance for their own entertainment and to provide some shock value to our fair city. Central Park is full of these clowns. And because of our giveaway antics, we sort of are one of these people. So whenever we set-up our gift-economy operation, we are a magnet for the more colorful elements that hang out in the park. I like to think that these people feel at home with us. They give us a fair bit of crazy antics in the beginning, because the poor souls don’t really know who they are dealing with. :) You want to give us some crazy? I’ll take your crazy and raise you five more. And then after hanging around us for an hour and after much incoherent babble, it happens. They pull down their masks and stop the act and talk to us as they really are. The homeless guy that we affectionately dubbed “Cookie Monster” watched us during our entire two-hour stint, all the while making bizarre commentary and performing odd stunts in the grass behind us. At the very end, he just comes up to us all normal and humble and says, “I think I ate most of your cookies. Thanks.”, and then leaves. Weird, eccentric, half-naked red-headed dude in dreadlocks watches us for an hour yelling out even more bizarre, and sometimes inappropriate, things to us from afar. After the hour, he comes back and offers us some of his cookies to give away and tries to explain to us why he is so weird. He smiles, thanks us, and then leaves. As Adam says, “At least he’s got personality”. :)
2. People begin to make demands about what they want to receive.
And the people want beer. Now we want to give the people what they want, but I think we will stick to cookies and lemonade. But it takes a fair amount of trust and comfort to be willing to take unverified baked goods and alcohol from us. This is heartening.
3. People don’t want us for our stuff anymore, they just want us.
Here’s another mystical law of the universe – when you become good at giving stuff away, people don’t want your stuff anymore. They rather just hang out with you and leave with nothing. We managed to give away close to 100 cookies, but it took us around 2 hours. And most of these cookies were eaten by just one person – our Cookie Monster friend mentioned above. On the other hand, even though we have enough Smile Cards to run our own Northeast distribution operation, we actually ran out of Smile Cards way before we ran out of cookies. And when we tried to unload the cookies, people actually openly requested Smile Cards instead. The need to just hug these people without warning was irrepressible.
I learn something new and incredibly valuable each time we run one of our experiments in kindness. I highly recommend it to all individuals who would like to reconnect with their community or just bring a little sunshine into their lives and the lives of others. If anyone would like to discuss setting up a giving experiment like this where they live, just give us a shout.
Enjoy these pictures from last weekend!