If you are an economist, you are not going to like this post, but you will find it interesting anyways.
In the last two weeks I did a couple of things that are completely irrational, from an economic perspective. They both make sense against my values though, and against my agenda to build a small community around me here in Karlskrona, Sweden, where I live now. The first was to pay a fine that no one asked me to pay for. The second was to give a gift to two ladies I don’t remember the name of.
Fine, then. I was in the public library downtown to give back two books that I had borrowed and kept with me for too long. When I tried to renew my booking, to keep them for a few more weeks, the lady at the library prints a receipt with my status and gives me the books with it. The receipt says that I have to pay a fine for having kept them for too long. The equivalent of less than five dollars, no big deal. But the lady doesn’t notice the fine and gives me the books anyway. I make her notice that I have to pay the fine, and give her the money. I could have easily not paid, but I really wanted to. The lending system at that library is already quite generous: you can keep up to three books for quite a long time, and the fine if you give them back is negligible. As a person who has grown up in a culture in Italy where people tend to bend (or dodge) the rules any time they can (sorry for the generalization, my fellow citizens!) I am always amazed by the level of mutual trust in Swedish society and how trusting people are. I also acknowledge that such system relies on a balance. If a considerable amount of people would start taking advantage of how trusting people are, the trust could get lost easily within the system. Vice-versa, every time an action is intentional in strengthening that trust, the system gets more solid and robust.
Tiramisu for social change. There is an adorable café here in town where wonderful and caring ladies work to make the atmosphere lovely, calm and welcoming. Their kindness is the real trademark of the café for me and many other guests who come. One day I sat on a small table by myself at ground floor when a group of customers came in, and one of them was on a wheelchair. It took me a minute to realize that they were looking at my table since it was the most apt to sit on because of the space the wheelchair needs. As I noticed they were looking, I stood up and told me I was very glad to give my table to them, and I went upstairs. The lady at the café thanks me very kindly. A minute later, without saying anything, she comes at my table and brings me a cookie with a big smile. I found it such an act of care and out of pure kindness, it really made my day. Out of that sentiment of gratitude towards them, I have been thinking for a while of building some bridges with them in a more intentional way. So I thought about making a cake for them. Since the best one I can make is the tiramisu, I made them a tiramisu for them this morning and brought to them this afternoon. I explained that it is a simple act of gratitude for them and their kindness, and if they like it enough I would be happy to teach them how I make it and they might add it to their dessert menu. They seemed very happy for the gift and are going to try it this afternoon when they close.
I hope this is the start of a connection about hosting dinners and building bridges with the community in Karlskrona and with them especially. Before going to them to give the cake, I wrote on my journal “I am not bringing you a tiramisu, I am bringing you a social experiment!”
Coincidence, probably: last night I started reading “Getting to Maybe”, a book about how society is changed, and so far I find it quite interesting so far. A simple concept put clearly in the first chapter of the book is about complexity of social systems and the value of intentionality in the game of social change. Social systems are per definition complex, and when we are operating for change in them there is no guarantee to success. Still,
“If you intend to do something you make a deliberate commitment to act to bring about change”.
When you do so, you are always dealing with the emerging factors that are beyond your control. (Which to me makes even a stronger case for being intentional about the changes you intend to make, BTW!)
The game of social change is on.