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The Noble Pursuit of a Buck

It’s amazing how much you learn from clowning. I did balloons at a ceremony that celebrated the opening of a new building at an elementary school out in Staten Island. The principal spoke of how the school had been seriously overcrowded for years and they’d complained and been trying to get another building without success. Then one day a builder who was starting a business in the area realized the overcrowding would make it harder for him to sell houses and decided he was going to double the size of the school. The principal, of course, didn’t believe it’d really happen. But the builder spent hundreds of hours cutting through red tape to get authorization, to get materials donated, etc. (it wound up that city council provided most of the materials and the builder donated all the labor) and, after about a year, it got done.

Listening to this, I was astonished. First off, I’d heard the first year of a new business was always really, really tough and you should expect to run at a loss. To voluntarily endure the type of brain damage being described while already under such stress seemed to me heroic to the point of being almost the stuff of comic books. Secondly, it was brilliant. This mini miracle had gotten him a front page article in the NY Times and presumably the word of mouth advertising of every parent at that school. Enlightened self interest at its best! I foresaw this builder becoming a very successful, very wealthy man & maybe going on to serve as an elected representative some time down the road.

Then a community organizer got up to speak. He was angry. People shouldn’t be acting like this guy (who donated massive amounts of time and probably tens of thousands of dollars for labor) had done something exceptional. Every business should be investing in the community like this. (From his tone I got the feeling he saw businesses who only contributed their goods or services to be basically parasites)

Listening to this I was again astonished.

Skipping over my feelings on the 2nd speech (which you can likely guess) it struck me that the problem was solved and a desperately needed expansion took place not because of the principal -who was presumably committed to providing the best possible education for his students, or because of the community organizer – who was presumably acting out of a sense of civic responsibility (and probably political ambitions..), but because of a businessman. He was the one whose bank account would benefit (in the long run) and he was the one who got it done.

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