Money Is Never the Problem
by Ed Chasteen
I learned this that summer on a bicycle. On May 16 that year I set off from Disney World in Orlando, Florida, intending to ride, by myself and without money, to Seattle, Washington and down to Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
I was 51 years old. I had grown up in the church. I was teaching sociology and anthropology at William Jewell College. From my years in the church and on the faculty of a church-related college, I had come to believe that inside every person on the planet there is a spark of goodness and genius, and my job was to breathe on that spark until it burst into flame, lighting our way together and warming us all.
I believed this when I was 51. I had read it. I had talked to people who lived it. But was it real? Could I know it? How?
Get on a bicycle. Go alone. Take no money. Ride coast to coast across America. Tell everyone you meet that you’re looking for goodness and genius. Ask them for exactly what you need at that moment: a sandwich, a drink of water, a bed for the night. And KNOW that they cannot say NO.
You have no idea how dumb this whole idea seemed to me. I have no good explanation of where this idea came from. But when it came, it would not leave. It took over. I could not quit talking to people about it. Total strangers even. And as we talked, unplanned words came out of my mouth that made no sense to me, making this crazy idea even more crazy. I promised not to spend even a penny for the bicycle I would need and to get a million dollar insurance for free so my wife would be taken care of if I were killed and to get free airline tickets to take my bicycle and me to Orlando to begin my ride and bring me home from Anaheim when my ride was over.
From May 16 when I pedaled away from Epcot Center at Disney World until I arrived on August 27 at Disneyland, I had no money and none of the more than 500 people I asked ever said no. On three occasions when I asked for a sandwich, the person I asked gave me money. The first time that happened, I had money left when I went to bed. The next morning I felt strange but could not figure out why. When twice more and days apart I was given money, I woke up the next morning with that same strange uneasiness.
Having money was the problem! A time or two after that someone slipped me money. I promptly gave it away; the uneasiness never returned.
Without money I had to talk to everyone I met and explain my self, my need and my purpose in no more than three short sentences. Money made me independent of people, took away my need, interfered with my purpose and set my sense of self adrift.
Ideas and ideals attract support. After only a few days on the road, alone and without money, telling everyone I met about the spark of goodness and genius I see in ever person and never being told no when I explained my need, I understood that money is never the problem. Ideas and ideals are all you need. The means to make them real will always come.
Money is a medium. It is not the message. We now want to help Nepal earthquake survivors. Our ideas and ideals will attract the necessary support. Including money.