If you’ve ever been to a church potluck, you know that there is always plenty of food. You may not get to try Miss Ethyl’s special Oriental salad or Miss Elizabeth’s chocolate pie if you are last in the line, but you certainly won’t go away hungry. Because everyone pitches in, providing at least as much as their family will eat and sometimes a bit more, people usually will end up taking some leftovers home even after the congregation gourmands have satisfied themselves.
At times there may be one or two people who don’t contribute – an elderly person who just can’t cook anymore or a guest who forgot about the potluck. Because there is so much left over, no one really minds letting these people eat without contributing.
What would happen though if several people decided not to bring anything, figuring that there was so much there anyway. What if they decided to “get something for nothing” by eating without bringing in their casserole? What if some of the elders in the church told them that it was fine – that they deserved to have food even if they didn’t contribute because that was their right?
The total amount of food available would become smaller because everyone who could be contributing at least enough to provide for themselves would no longer be doing so. The desire to get something for nothing is seductive. (Ever notice that you eat more at a buffet, even if the buffet costs the same as a regular meal, and even if you are trying to lose weight, because you feel that by doing so you are getting “your money’s worth?) More people would probably decide to stop contributing as well – after all, they like free stuff too!
Some of the people who always contribute, and maybe bring a big dish or really try to do something fancy or delicious to impress others may start to feel put upon if there is not much left over when they go through the lines because a lot of people are contributing nothing. Many of these people would stop trying as hard. Some would probably stop coming to the event at all or find a different church to attend. There would then be less for everyone to eat.
Central planning would not help matters. If there was not enough food to go around and what was there was of low quality, having someone decide how to dole it out would not help. First of all those doing the planning would probably make sure they ate first and keep the best portions for themselves (ever notice in even the worse state budget crisies, there is never talk about the governor taking a big pay cut or the Governor’s secretary being let go?), leaving others with the crumbs. Secondly, do you really want someone deciding that you should have a roll when you wanted some tortilla chips?
If everyone contributes at least enough to cover themselves, there will be more than enough for all, including those who cannot provide for themselves. Once you start ont he dangerous spiral of trying to get something for nothing, those who contribute the most will stop contributing and you will be left with the scraps. It doesn’t matter if the deacons promised everyone turkey and pumpkin pie if all you have is a box of crackers and a plate of celery. When the pond runs dry, frogs eat the frogs.
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