In class on Friday, we were challenged to try out a breaching experiment in the Harold Garfinkel style: to respond to someone in a social setting in an unexpected way, and see how they react. (The professor’s example was the time she went through the drive-thru at Burger King and asked what the primary colors are; the clerk said “Well we have chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.”)
Yesterday I was walking home from the Silver Spring farmers market when I saw three bright young people in red tee-shirts coming toward me. One of them stopped and engaged me in conversation. Of course I was expecting her to say something like “Do you have five minutes to save the rainforest / support the First Amendment / stop plate tectonics,” but instead she said “If you could do one thing to change the world, what would it be?”
I was completely nonplussed. I had no idea how to respond to her. I said something lame like “I have to pick just one?” And then she told me the name of the organization she was working for, encouraged me to check out their website, and did not ask me to give her my contact information or money.
I went away thinking that I had missed an opportunity to try out the breaching experiment. I thought, I should have responded by saying something like “Well, have you heard the one about the skeleton who walks into a bar?”* Only after some reflection did I realize that I was the one whose expectations had been violated.
A note to anyone reading this who might be considering something similar for their own nonprofit: By the time I got home, I forgot who she was representing, so I never even tried to check the website.
* He ordered a beer and a mop.