This week, I went to the first night of a new interactive experience The Money. The basic premise of the game is that a group of strangers are given a pot of cash and told they have to come to a unanimous decision on how to spend it within an hour. There are three stipulations: it can't be spilt, it can't be given to charity and it must be spent within the law.
The room was divided into players and silent witnesses. The former were to make the decision. The latter could have no input unless they “bought in” for £20 and became a player.
As I can't resist a cheeky joke (and as my washing machine had genuinely broken down that morning), I opened proceedings by suggesting that the group should buy me a new one. It was the first solid notion on the table, but was generally laughed at in a kind-hearted sort of way and we moved on.
The motivations of the group were mixed, but we generally agreed we wanted to do something motivated by a sense of altruism. There were others arguing purely for a fun option, but they were generally outnumbered and willing to go along with the consensus.
This led to a rather long and somewhat circular conversation about the nature of what did or did not constitute giving “the money” to “charity”. We eventually agreed that purchasing something nice for a group of worthy people would be the best way to spend the money, which then led to a further round of wrangling over whether it should be a coffee machine for nurses or a sound system for a youth club, all of which carried on as the clock ticked down.
However, at just over halfway through, a silent witness bought in, and changed the dynamic completely.
He told us, in no uncertain terms, that we were all being too dull and worthy and that he would veto any such altruistic suggestion. The money should bring joy he argued. He suggested we buy something absurd and parade it through the streets of London bringing smiles in our wakes.
Many of us were quite irritated by this – especially those who wanted to give a more altruistic gift. But it definitely made things a lot more interesting for the audience.
Finally, after arguing for quite some time two more silent witnesses bought in: first TV presenter Sandi Togsvik and then culture supremo Jude Kelly. The latter argued that buying my washing machine would both be a nice thing to do as well as bringing joy and to my amazement, the whole group agreed and signed up. I went home with £340, a renewed faith in humanity and, as expected, a great deal of joy!
It was a fascinating experience. When none of us really felt we had a stake in the money, I wonder how much we transferred our “buy in” to looking good to our peers instead? How many of us really wanted to be altruistic and how many wanted people to think of us as such?
I was cross with “veto man” when he interceded. It may be that the only reason I am not so now is that I ended up being the one who directly benefitted. But it took real guts to be the person who went against the grain so publicly – staking his own money on doing so. In an age where conformity is all, he may have a lesson to teach us, even if it did confusingly involve suggestions like “pink elephant floats”.
Either way, I now have a brand new washing machine arriving next week and a warm glow thanks to the kindness of strangers. This was only my second night out this year. As we struggle to come back to ‘real life’ perhaps this is the new normal – having celebrities pay to argue for you to receive a free washing machine. If so – count me in!