Give: Life Lessons from a Busker

“That was nice of you.”

“Excuse me?”

“That was nice of you.”

The kind, older woman selling her vibrant, meticulously-crafted quilts had to repeat herself three times before I could hear her over the pulse of music and voices at the arts & crafts fair.

Her comment left me confused in a situation I know all too well. Here’s a singer & guitarist just like me, with an open guitar case full of unpriced CDs. It’s street performer code for, “Take one, and pay what you think is fair.”

All I did was drop $10 in his case and take a CD. That seemed about right. Dude’s chops were buskerok, but he had a killer voice.

“Why are you saying it was nice of me? I don’t understand,” I puzzled.

“Most people just take a CD but don’t leave any money,” she observed.

I managed, “Well, I’m a musician, too,” and moved on.

What a shitty answer. Are musicians the only ones who should pay for the work of other musicians? What if she tried the same policy? “Take a quilt, pay what you think is fair.” I’m guessing she’d end the day with no quilts, and not much money to show for it.

The classic way to think about this is economics. Goods and services. Supply and demand. Blah blah blah.

Let’s think about it differently.

Let’s think about balance.

It isn’t difficult to see most of mankind’s modern problems through this lens: We are out of balance. Within ourselves. With each other. With nature. With our planet.

We are over-mining and over-consuming our natural resources. We obsess over (mostly invented) categories: Political affiliation. Religion. Nation. Race. Gender. Rich. Poor. Haves. Have-nots. We exploit divisions to try to better our own category(ies), usually to the other group’s detriment. It’s simply the nature of balance. One wins, one loses. One advances, one is left behind.

We’re out of balance because we’re doing far more taking than giving. We’re pushing our species and our planet to the brink of destruction.

As far as money goes, well…there’s plenty to go around, we just don’t balance the distribution of the resources or the returns. That system is severely out of balance.

Often, I’m so despondent with the state of the world that I feel paralyzed. What can I possibly do to even begin to undo the mess of this world? A world I am all-too-aware that my kids will inherit.

The answer? Give. Drop $10 in the guitar case, people!

giveWait a sec — we’re just talking about a street performer, right? What difference does it really make if I give him $10, or nothing? Well, it matters to him. It may matter to others. Maybe he has a significant other, or kids. We have no idea.

But regardless, as I realized that day, I think it makes a world of difference.

In everyday life, there’s nothing big. There’s nothing small. There are just the opportunities we all have. And in those opportunities, we have choices. I’ve decided, as much as possible, that I’m gonna give. I’m gonna share. Sure, we all need to take sometimes. That’s the nature of balance. But I’ve resolved to try to push back, ever-so-infinitesimally, against the imbalance of this world.

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