By Laura Moore
Most of the time, people follow the same protocol. They post a picture, provide a quick description of the item (featuring all of the pros, cons and why it's being sold). Then they assign it a price and tell you whether the transaction will occur at an agreed upon location, or if you must drive over to the seller's house and pick it up yourself.
Occasionally, people ask for advice about gift ideas, where to vacation, or who the best veterinarians, doctors, or contractors are. And they alert people of, and inquire about, strange happenings: booms, sirens, missing animals or criminal activity. Even though the BST site is not designed as a crime stopper destination, the group in my community has such an active network, I'm quite convinced the peeper-in-the-ridge would have been caught had the police followed the live-streaming comments popping up on the page.
Outside of these uses, people also post ISOs (in search ofs), to see if someone wants to part with an item they're looking for, or if people know where that thing could be found. From rental properties to kitchen benches to toddler swim trunks, exchanges have been made, goods have been recycled and money has been saved and earned. There's no fee to join, no store-front mortgage or advertising fee to pay, and no cut to give up to consignment stores. Prices can be lower because all of the profits go to the seller, so it's a win-win all the way around for everyone, except maybe for businesses who lose a new sale on account of a BST transaction.
While most of the posts seem reasonable, two days ago, on a buy-sell-trade site that is open to every single person living in the state of Ohio, I saw an ISO that stopped me dead in my tracks. When I initially read it, I actually laughed out loud: belly laugh, pulsing shoulders, the whole nine yards.
A woman, who was clearly sick of weeding her various gardens, notified this 8,557 member community that her husband got overly ambitious with flowerbeds on their two-acre property. She was tired of the work, and in search of individuals who would be willing--for fun--to come to her house, remove the plants and grade over the area so she could spread grass seed and reduce the amount of work. She wasn't offering any money. She wasn't asking for landscaping recommendations. She wasn't selling bouquets of flowers or hand-woven wreaths. She was blindly asking strangers to come to her house and do yard work for free.
It was so amusing to me that someone would actually sit down and write this post that I choked on my coffee, and re-read her words at least a half a dozen times. I waited for the sarcastic comments. I waited to see that her account had been hacked by people who wrote for The Onion. I waited for the circus to unfold, but the only thing that unraveled was my cynicism.
Much to my surprise, within minutes, the woman had reasonable responses.
Lots of them.
Responses that were not mocking her or soliciting business. People were referring her to a garden group where individuals actually look for the opportunity to dig up free flowers. Droves of other people extended the offer to come themselves. As of this morning, 24 comments streamed on the page, and most of them were from perfect strangers who were "emoticon/exclamation point" excited to drive across town so they could dig up her vegetation, grade the land and help her prepare for seeding.
It turned out that the only jerk taking interest in her post was me.
As I stared at the stream of offers--as I considered the genuine excitement exuding from responders ready and poised to swoop in and save her unwanted plants--I realized the immense interconnectedness that exists around me.
I realized that the very things that often bother us, that have no more use to us, that seem horrible and burdensome for us, could very well be a blessing for someone else. They could very well be the thing that our neighbors most want to have and most want to do, but because we assume others think the way we do, we destroy those things, we dismiss them, we throw them away.
And so in honor of Earth Day--and in honor of the woman who solicited free landscaping services--I am going to make a better effort to ask and not assume. To reach out before I toss. To open my mind. To connect. To offer. To accept.
I'm going to do a better job of being part of a community, a community that gives and takes, a community that asks and receives, a community filled with tiny opportunities crouching down beside the weeds.