This morning I was shopping at the Meijer in Standale, purchasing birthday gifts for Ryan.  As I passed through the book aisle, I noticed that a volume — a book about parenting small children, as I recall — had a $100 bill sticking out of it.

Yes, a random C-note in the book stack at Meijer.

So what did I do?  I left it. 

The way I see it, that cash wasn’t mine.  Who knows who put it there, and why?  But I can see the scene in my mind — an hour after I passed through, a depressed working mom or a man who has been unemployed for months wanders through.  He or she isn’t quite sure where the next meal will come from.  If anyone has fair claim to that $100, it’s the person whose need is more genuine than mine.

Yet it prompts some thoughts, doesn’t it?  Who would see if I grabbed the money from the book?  The odds that some TV crew would jump out and say “Aha!” are pretty slim.  No, I like to think — based on nothing more than wishful thinking — that a good samartian somewhere put it there for a struggling person to find.

I’m not made of money, but I’m not starving.  I have a roof over my head, and steady income.

Yet I wonder — did the rich guy who was five minutes behind me pocket that cash without a second thought?  A spoiled teen, perhaps?  Or a drug addict, who will use it for his next fix?

I have no idea who put that money there, and why.  I have no idea whether it was a deliberate act of random kindness, or an accident (perhaps the book was a return?).  I have no idea how many others passed by and looked, but didn’t touch.  I have no idea who will end up pocketing the money.

I do know this:  Unstructured generosity is an interesting social phenomenon.  The donor contributes guided by nothing more substantial than blind faith.  The recipient may or may not be worthy of the the donor’s largesse.  What would happen, then, if the Franklin-in-a-book mode of public charity became more widespread?

It’s been said that one’s odds at beating the stock market aren’t much different whether one chooses careful financial analysis, or allowing a helper monkey to chuck darts at the daily stock reports in the newspaper.  What if philanthropy operated in similar fashion?  What would society look like if donors quit trying to leverage money for specific purposes (which may or may not be sound), and instead tossed it to the wind, to be a seed for whoever stumbled upon it?

Crazy?  Maybe.  But is it any crazier than seeing a $100 bill planted in a parenting book at Meijer?

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