Years ago I read, someplace, about a small but telling error in judgment, or at least in lack of forethought, on the part of my very favorite president. It seems that, if the story is true, Abraham Lincoln, as a youth, once cut two small pet doors into the bottom of an entrance door to his home. One pet door was larger than the other. The story goes that old Abe, when he was ‘young’ Abe, failed to realize that, while he had two cats of different sizes, both of them could enter or exit the house through only one door, as long as it was large enough for the biggest cat. The young Mr. Lincoln had thought only that he had a large cat and a small one, and, probably, that the larger cat would not fit through the smaller cat’s door, so, needed its own. It was said that, after realizing what he had done, Lincoln felt embarrassed at the thought of that smaller, unshared door, for a long time.
I was reminded of this story the other day, after purchasing a small, round ‘tin’ (It was plastic, but shaped like what I would refer to as a tin.) of breath mints, because they were irresistibly displayed in the ‘waiting area’ (checkout line) of our favorite grocery store. Those last minute ‘impulse sales’ are important things to take advantage of, you know. You see, I was reminded of the ‘Abe’ story as I read on the package that there were actually two ways to open this plastic ‘tin’ of mints. Yes, there were two openings to the thing; two ways to enter the wonderful realm of minty freshness within. On one side of the round plastic box there was an indentation, and the magical words of opening contemplation: ‘To Share.’ No, I’m not joking. This spot on the lid of the thing revealed a small door, which could be pulled up and open, exposing a hole only slightly larger than one of the mints. So, evidently, the mints below this door could be safely shared with others, as you would need to tip the box over and drop a mint or two into your friend’s presumably filthy, grubby hand, the fingers of which never having to touch your sparkling clean mints. (Where do you find your friends, anyway?)
Now, it gets better, and remember, I am not joking. On exactly the opposite side of this amazing mint-dispensing, round, plastic ‘tin,’ was another admonition, at another plastic door. (Remember when mints just came in a simple roll? Can anyone say Lifesavers?) This door was wider. In fact, when opened it unveiled a gaping hole, baring a full one third of the container’s innards, for all the world to see. This admonition, I kid you not, simply said: ‘Not To Share.’ Really? Yes, it did. Really. My assumption is that you, as the owner of the mints, could reach your OWN filthy, grubby fingers into the box, polluting any mints your digits happened to touch. After all, they are YOUR mints to touch, if you so desire. (Just don’t open that ‘to share’ side of the box and offer ME a mint, with that smug, ‘my mints are pristine’ look on your face, after you have violated the mints through that other, wider door. I’m not stupid. I know those mints all get together and share their germs as that tin bounces around in your pocket.
Just as that box of mints reminded me of the Abe Lincoln story, although Abe was just trying to accommodate his pets, the idea of ‘to share’ and ‘not to share’ has stuck in my mind ever since I got those mints. It has reminded me of just how much some attitudes have changed in our society, over the years. I think that, when I was a kid, no manufacturer of any product would have wanted to accuse even one of its customers of selfishness, by offering a ‘me’ door on their product… to say nothing of calling it a ‘not to share’ entrance to the thing.
In closing, let’s briefly consider one of my favorite summer treats, Popsicles. Today things have probably changed, but when I was a kid, Popsicles were always to share. There was no choice, and no one even thought of having a choice, or cared to have one. In those days each Popsicle had two sticks, unlike those self-centered, single-stick frozen pops today, and they were narrow in the middle, and easy to split, right down that middle. If you are even close to my age, you must remember those facts. In fact, on a hot summer day, if you had a Popsicle, and you didn’t split it in two, it would eventually split itself for you, one side dropping onto either your pants or the seat of your dad’s new car. So it was right, proper, and smart to just split your Popsicle as soon as you got it, and give one half to a friend. The entire process, the entire idea, evidently thought up by the Popsicle people, was to share… it was NOT to ‘not share.’ And, think of this. Single Popsicles would have sold just as well as ‘double’ ones, and doubled the company’s profits. Hmm. This all leads me to believe that some American corporations think of profits, but not ONLY of profits. The Popsicle company thought enough of sharing to make their premiere product one that just had to be shared. They might have devised it as a lesson to young children, although, in those days, sharing was just what people did, and splitting your Popsicle might have simply been expected. Today, I think it is a lesson to us all.
President Lincoln once learned that both of his cats could share just one pet door. Likewise, the mints in my little plastic container could certainly have been dispensed through that one ‘to share’ door. The mint company didn’t think of making just that one door, but instead, provided the subliminal message of an opportunity for selfishness. A simple message of sharing would, seemingly, have been better. It is precisely the lesson from the original Popsicle people that, whether for pops, peppermints, or pets, we could all benefit, if all we had was a ‘to share’ door.
“George’s World,” a new 740 page collection of George’s columns from The World, is available at xlibris.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and your favorite bookstore. “The Smoke And Mirrors Effect,” George’s first novel, can be seen at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Happy Reading!