In the spring of 1987, I was watching a locally produced television program called “Gotcha Chicago.” It was about some local celebrities who played practical jokes on one another. In one segment of the program, the TV station hired a man to stand on the sidewalk along Michigan Avenue holding a sign that read “Free money. Today only.” (For those of you who are not familiar with Chicago, Michigan Avenue is home to many fashionable, exclusive department stores and boutiques.) The TV station gave the man a considerable amount of cash, with instructions to give money to anyone who asked for it.
Now, when you consider that Michigan Avenue is one of the busiest areas of the city, and if we assume that most of the people who passed the man on the street could read the sign, how many people would you think took him up on his offer and asked for some money? Of all the people who walked by and read the sign, only one person stopped, and said, “Great! May I have a quarter to buy a bus transfer?” Otherwise, no one would even go near the man. Eventually, the man grew frustrated because people weren’t reacting the way he expected them to. He started crying out, “Do you want any money? Please take my money; I can’t give it away fast enough.” Everyone just kept walking around him as if he didn’t exist. In fact, I noticed that several people went out of their way to avoid him.
As a man wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase approached, he went right up to him and said, “Would you like some money?” The man responded, “Not today.” Really frustrated now, he shot back, “How many days does this happen? Would you please take this?” as he tried to hand the man some cash. The man responded with a terse “No” and walked on. What was going on here? Why wouldn’t anyone (except for the person who needed a bus transfer) ask for the money? If we assume that most or all of the passersby could read the sign, but still didn’t make any effort to get the money, then one possible explanation for their behavior is that they just didn’t care about money.
This is extremely unlikely, though, considering how much of our lives is devoted to the pursuit of money. If we agree that people could read the sign and that money is very important to most of us, then what could have stopped these people from helping themselves? The environment was making available an experience that most people would love to have: someone giving them money with no strings attached. Yet everyone walked by, oblivious to what was awaiting them. They must not have been able to perceive what was available. That’s hard to imagine, because the sign clearly stated “Free money. Today only.” However, it’s not hard to imagine if you consider that most people have a belief (an energized concept about how the world works) that “Free money doesn’t exist.” If free money really doesn’t exist, then how does someone reconcile the obvious contradiction between that belief and the sign saying that it does? That’s easy, just decide the man with the sign is crazy; what else could account for such bizarre behavior if, in fact, free money doesn’t exist? The reasoning process that could compensate for the contradiction might go something like this: “Everyone knows getting money with no strings attached rarely happens.
Certainly not from a stranger on one of the busiest streets in the city. In fact, if the man were really giving away money, he would already be mobbed. He might even be endangering his life. He must be crazy. I had better take a wide path around him; who knows what he might do?” Notice that every component of the thought process described is consistent with the belief that free money doesn’t exist.
1. The words “free money” were neither perceived nor interpreted as they were intended from the environment s perspective.
2. Deciding the person with the sign must be crazy created an expectation of danger, or at least a perception that caution was warranted.
3. Purposefully altering one’s path to avoid the person with the sign is an action that is consistent with the expectation of danger.
4. How did each person feel about the outcome?
That’s difficult to say without knowing each person individually, but a good generalization would be that they felt relieved that they successfully avoided an encounter with a crazy person. The feeling of relief that resulted from avoiding a confrontation is a state of mind. Remember that how we feel (the relative degree of positively or negatively charged energy flowing through our bodies and minds) is always the absolute truth.
But the beliefs that prompt any particular state of mind may not be the truth with respect to the possibilities available from the environment’s perspective. Relief from confrontation was not the only possible outcome in this situation. Imagine how different the experience would be if they believed that “free money exists.” The process described above would be the same, except it would make the belief that “free money exists,” seem self-evident and beyond question, just as it made the belief that “free money doesn’t exist,” seem self-evident and beyond question. A perfect example would be the one person who said “great, may I have a quarter for a bus transfer.” When I saw this, I had the anybody for a quarter. A panhandler is someone who definitely believes in the existence of free money. Therefore, his perception and interpretation of the sign were exactly what was intended by the TV station.
His expectation and behavior were consistent with his belief that free money exists. And how would he feel about the results? He got his quarter, so I would assume he felt a sense of satisfaction. Of course, what he didn’t know is that he could have gotten a lot more. There’s another possible outcome for our scenario. Let’s look at a hypothetical example of someone who believes that “free money doesn’t exist,” but who takes a “what if approach to the situation. In other words, some people can be so intrigued and curious about the possibilities that they decide to temporarily suspend their belief that “free money doesn’t exist.” This temporary suspension allows them to act outside the boundaries created by a belief, in order to see what happens.
So instead of ignoring the man with the sign, which would be our hypothetical person’s first inclination, he walks up to him and says, “Give me ten dollars.” The man promptly pulls a ten-dollar bill out of his pocket and gives it to him. What happens now? How does he feel, having experienced something unexpected that completely contradicted his belief? For most people, the belief that free money doesn’t exist is acquired through unpleasant circumstances, to put it mildly. The most common way is being told that we can’t have something because it’s too expensive.
How many times does the typical child hear, “Who do you think you are anyway? Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know.” In other words, it is probably a negatively charged belief. So the experience of having money handed to him with no strings attached and without any negative comments would likely create a state of mind of pure elation. In fact, most people would be so happy that they’d feel compelled to share that happiness and this new discovery with everyone they knew. I can imagine him going back to his office or going home, and the moment he encounters someone he knows, the first words out of his mouth will be “You won’t believe what happened to me today,” and even though he desperately wants those he meets to believe his story, they probably won’t. Why? Because their belief that free money doesn’t exist will cause them to interpret his story in a way that negates its validity.
To take this example a little further, imagine what would happen to this person’s state of mind if it occurred to him that he could have asked for more money. He is in a state of pure elation. However, the moment the thought either pops into his mind or someone he relates his story to offers the idea that he could have asked for a lot more money, his state of mind will immediately shift to a negatively charged state of regret or despair. Why? He tapped into a negatively charged belief about what it means to miss out on something or not get enough. As a result, instead of being happy over what he got, he will lament what he could have had but didn’t get.
Mark Douglas, Trending in the Zone, p. 105-107.