Will You Take This $5 Bill For A $1 Bill?


I was handing out food at a food kitchen for the homeless and it was disgusting. I thought maybe I would be less depressed if I helped others.

So all of my motivation was selfish. There’s compassion and then there’s “selfish compassion.” Is there a difference?

I have no idea. But if you’re going to feed homeless people at a soup kitchen you better be ready to throw up. Is this bad of me to say?

“I wanted you to see what it’s like,” said a friend of mine who had recently been in jail for whatever activism he was doing that year. Some war.

I visited him when he was in jail.

His first night in some sort of holding cell he had taken off all his clothes and tried to flush them down the toilet. He was bipolar. His intentions were good. But the clothes wouldn’t flush. Then he was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

When I got to the window where he was, he told me, “you’re the only one who visited me.”

We talked for awhile until I asked him, “has anyone raped you?”

He laughed and said, “look at me. Do you think anyone would want to rape this?”

I woke up today feeling a little lonely. Which is when I decided to look at the “Other” box in my Facebook email folder.

This was the first message:

“I love your posts and they are very inspirational.

I want to ask you how much weight do you put on personal appearance in your daily life?

I see that you have a unique hairdo and fashion sense. Frankly, those are the only 2 things I don’t like about you.”

I’m glad he (or she) felt the need to tell me that.

Let’s say you scrub away your thoughts, your anxieties, your fears, your hopes, your judgments.

There’s just a blank canvas left.

But what’s the difference between your blank canvas and my blank canvas that we started with? We all came out of the same blank canvas factory.

I tried an experiment the other day suggested to me by Seth Godin.

He said, “go up to random strangers and try to buy a $1 bill from them for $5. It’s a riskless transaction for them.”

So I did this. I went up to everyone I saw and I said, “Here is a $5 bill. Can I give you this bill in exchange for a $1 bill.”

It was hard to do this. I’m shy so it’s hard to talk to strangers. Also, I had this natural reflex that I didn’t want a total stranger who I would never see again to think I was weird.

Most people said, “no”.

So who is more crazy? The person trying to give away a $5 bill in exchange for a $1 bill or the person who says “no” to that.

The only person who said, “yes” was a woman who was carrying two twin babies. She gave the babies to her friend and she said okay, but I realized she had a stutter. She said, “Are you-you-you sure you don’t-don’t just want a dollar?”

I’m sure. And one blank canvas gave another blank canvas a dollar in exchange for five dollars. Two crazy people falling in love.

I read this: “get outside of the box whenever you can.”

So that’s why I tried the five dollar experiment. It certainly was outside of my box. I was afraid to approach people. I approached every race, sex, age I passed. Most people said “no.”

But what did I find?

I found that I gave up worrying what these people would think of me. I’d be scared too if someone approached me with an outrageous proposition.

I think I’m often in jail. The warden is called, “Mr. What Do People Think of You.”

My fellow inmates are the maniacs who think, “This is What I Don’t Like About You.”

Statistically, I know this: everyone can die tomorrow.

But in that curious twist that statistics always gives us: I also know that I will never die.

Proof: I’ve been alive about 16,000 days, give or take. And on not one of those days I’ve died. Amazing!

So I better be nice to you today. Just in case.

I don’t want you to say anything bad about me to the kind people who put together these canvases.

Last week I threw out all my belongings. But this week I want to throw out what’s in my head. I can’t go out of the box until I clean up what’s in the box.

If the box is full, I will have no new ideas. I’ll get sick. I’ll run out of ways to love people.

It was my birthday this past week. For all these years I’ve led a life of increase. How can I get more? I would tell myself, I need more to feed my family. More people to like me. Etc. But “more” became other things. Insidious.

The accumulation of judgments. Of selfishness. Of fear of protecting what’s mine.

Every day I try to erase something that is on this canvas. It’s hard because I want to judge, just like I’m being judged.

But the key to living is to decrease, and then decrease again. Start with the judgments. Then the fears. Stop talking.

I can only learn when I listen. Not when I talk.

Considering you might die tomorrow, I need to listen to you. To kiss you on your forehead.

Please give my regards wherever you are going.

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