Last week while walking my dog, I noticed what I thought was one of those awesome free standing “Lending Library” kiosks.

However as I approached, I saw that this one did not include a single book. Rather, it was filled with canned goods and other non-perishable food items. The sign at the top read, “Take What You Need.”

The presence of such a structure was both a sign of our difficult economic times and a refreshing public display of community kindness.

It is worth noting that it did not instruct people to just take one or limit who should do the taking. Instead it was left to the individual to determine how much they should take – based on their known need not on what the giver perceived it to be. It was an act of both generosity and trust.

In comparison, we often give with trepidation and suspicion. Concerned that someone will take too much or take advantage of someone else’s kindness.

We see this most frequently when it comes to our social programs. Where many believe that fraud is rampant, some recipients not deserving, others just working the system.

Much has been written about our declining trust in our institutions, but more distressing is our lack of trust in each other. This dampens our compassion and thwarts our generosity.

At the core of building a trust-based structure, whether a kiosk on a street or a system within our government, is to acknowledge the sufficiency of the giver. I am asking you to take what you need because I have enough for my needs.

What do you have enough of that you’d offer someone else to take whatever they need?

How lovely if we designed more of our individual giving and social systems with this simple thought in mind.

On a related note: If you’re looking for ways to have better conversations with your family about social class, please check out my new article in Parents.com.

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