Free food, dog poop and how we relate to money.

Yep, food and poop in the same sentence.

No matter how hard we — and by we I mean humanity as a whole — try to focus on more meaningful and noble things, generally speaking, we all love money. In theory, we have known this forever, but sometimes we don’t want to admit it, to see it or we simply don’t like to think about it. It makes us seem way too human. But if you look closer, it’s there, in the simplest details of life.

I started to reflect on it at SXSW, a huge event that happens annually in Austin and is well known, among other things, for the free food and drinks. Of course I spent a few minutes everyday in lines for free guacamole and IPA, because I consider myself young enough — what it has to do with age, I don’t know — to benefit from free food.

But then I saw a very well dressed woman, around 50 years old with a speaker badge behind me in the line. My automatic mental reaction was to think “what is she doing here? She is the embodiment of success. She certainly can pay for food!”. And then, as fast as this first thought came the second one: “oh wait, me too!”. I mean, it’s not that I am rich or anything like that, but I do have money for food, for sure.

In this case, I don’t think it’s only about saving money, if you consider that you could buy a nice meal there for $10. People who attend SXSW spend a thousand dollars or more for the ticket, so we can’t exactly say they have money problems. Speaking as one of those in the line for free food, I’d say it has to do with the sensation of advantage, of being clever: someone is paying for food in this town and I’m not. If I don’t pay for food here, I’ll have this money later to do something else. What? I don’t know, but money’s there just in case.

Of course I don’t feel bad for liking free food and saving money for whatever, because it seems like I’ll probably keep on liking it even when I’m 50 years old and a speaker somewhere. But it’s interesting to be conscious about these human traits to keep them inside healthy limits. Liking money and liking to take advantage it’s a combination that goes way farther than SXSW’s food park and we all know that.

A few days later, while I was accepting that we really like money and this is not a problem after all, I receive an email from my building’s landlord saying that they would start to give fines to those who don’t pick up their dogs’ poop. Plus, they would give money to those who snitch on offenders. My first reaction was to laugh and imagine movie scenes of neighbors watching the yard with binoculars, planting false evidence and all that. But after a while I connected it to the thoughts about not paying for guacamole and I realized that the problem isn’t liking free food (and money, in other words). It’s letting money be the only motivation to care about people around you.

From the minute the email got to everyone’s mail box, miraculously everyone had a bag in their hand and started to clean up after their pets. It was not as if before they were incapable, all the plastic bags in the world were gone or they were prevented by a divine force to pick up the poop. They simple didn’t give a shit. (Sorry, couldn’t help the pun). And now they do because they can lose money. They obviously still don’t care about the neighbors, except for the fact that now they can be a snitch.

The lesson learned from free food and dog poop? Love your (honest) money, save it, feel good when you save every dollar, it doesn’t matter how much you really need it or the impact this dollar is going to make in your life. But don’t let money be the only reason for being kind and, sincerely, complying with the simplest duties of a citizen.