Professor Stevens stood at the front of his classroom, nodding to each student as they entered the room for his 8:00 AM math class. As the last of the two-hundred students sat down, the smart screen on the wall behind the professor started flashing GIVERS AND TAKERS. The students began whispering to each other, wondering why the professor was displaying such a sign in his math class.
A loud voice from the rear of the room bellowed, “Professor Stevens, I think you have the wrong graphic displayed on the smart-screen. This isn’t a sociology class—um, is it?!?”
Inquisitive whispers turned into laughter at question. Professor Stevens smiled and replied, “Danny, I’m happy to hear that you think you know where you are at this early hour. I believe there’s hope for you yet, my boy” as the laughter increased a few dozen decibels.
“No, Danny. This isn’t a sociology class, but I want to share an important experiment with all of you today. If you prefer to use math terminology, think of the graphic as PLUSES AND MINUSES in life. I’ll have questions at the end of the lecture, so listen carefully. Your answers may play a significant role in your final semester grade.”
With that comment, silence suddenly filled the room.
Professor Stevens’ Experiment
“I have recently observed many down-on-their-luck folks sitting on sidewalks displaying signs requesting help from strangers who were walking by. You know—signs such as ‘I’m Hungry! Please Help!’ or ‘Need $ For Food’. The vast majority of the strangers walked past briskly, ignoring the signs and those seeking help. Most of them walked past near or in the street and some even looked away to avoid eye contact with the downtrodden individuals.
“I started thinking about this and decided to conduct a little experiment to see how people would respond to me in a similar situation. I dressed in old-tattered clothes and sat on the sidewalk of a busy street on two sequential Fridays. The weather on both days was the same—nice. I displayed one sign in front of me each day.
“On the first Friday, my sign read, ‘I’m Feeling Down! Please Help!’
I was asking complete strangers to help me. Although I didn’t say what kind of help I needed, the vast majority of folks looked away, choosing to ignore me. They responded similar to what I described to you earlier. After sitting quietly for four hours, I had collected a whopping $1.36 in my little tin cup. The money came from three individuals who were dressed just like me. They had very little to offer materially, but they gave what they could with a smile, and even offered a few kind words of support to me. The nicely dressed individuals who passed by had much to offer me materially, but they elected to give me nothing—not even a kind word or a simple smile.
“The sign I used on the second Friday was, ‘Shake My Hand – I’ll Give You $10’.
I was offering something to strangers for a simple gesture, a handshake, and the outcome was completely different this time. Folks were drawn to the sign and me. By the end of the first hour, I had given away $360. Thirty-six people, all dressed in nice attire, stood in line waiting to shake my hand for a $10 bill. Some were likely among those who ignored me the week before. One of the gentleman who contributed $0.53 to me the first Friday stopped by again. He shook my hand, but I couldn’t get him to accept my ten-dollar gift. He wished me well and then walked away. By the end of the second hour, an additional seventy-five people had paused to shake my hand. I ran out of $10 bills at that point and left. By the way, those who received a $10 bill did not thank me, nor did they offer a smile.”
As Professor Stevens ended his lesson, the smart screen displayed, “GIVERS AND TAKERS – WHICH DESCRIBES YOU?”
“Okay, Danny, since you so bravely challenged whether this was a math class, here’s a math problem for you. How many people received $10 from me?
Professor Stevens’ simple experiment offers many points for discussion—some are obvious and others, not so much. Sorta makes you think about where we are today as a society, doesn’t it?
Are you a TAKER? Well, we all are at times, but we don’t have to be that way in all cases. Consider being a GIVER sometimes. It’s easy to do. Share a smile, speak kindly to someone, or simply do something nice for others—such things don’t cost you and you just might brighten someone’s day.
If you are a GIVER in any way, thank you. You are a blessing to others and just aced Professor Stevens’ math class. Congratulations!
Please share your thoughts on any points about Givers/Takers that interest you.
Bless you and have a nice day!
Tom Tatum – Author – 2015
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