There's a reason why I love this town.

I arrived in Edmonton just in time for some holiday shopping, which took me to my favourite bookstore ever: Audrey's Books. Why are they my favourite? Because the clerks will start talking about how great "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" is, yet they will openly berate anyone who phones asking about the "Left Behind" series. They've got taste, and they're not afraid to use it.

After discussing the correlation between Australian literary awards and the Australian used book trade, I concluded my transactions and left the store. I turned the corner, and saw a five-dollar bill lying in the middle of the sidewalk. See? I told you it's a great store. I looked around to see if anyone was fumbling with their wallet, and picked it up for myself.

Not ten seconds later, one of Edmonton's homeless (or, as I call them, les indigent) came up to me. In a barely discernable voice, he politely muttered a request for five cents, as he hadn't eaten in two days.

Now, I've never been in graduate studies, but I know a psychology experiment when I smell one. I mean, it's not that hard to disguise a grad student as a derelict, is it? Now, the question became the same as when a fill out a survey: Not "what do I believe", but "what do I want these researchers to believe about other people". And, even if it's not the case, I'd rather that they write a paper about the inherent generousity of people, so I gave him the five dollars.

In a way, I was reminded of a passage I once read in a philosophy book, where a professor challenged his students to find a single practical benefit to an act of kindness (i.e. giving a near-worthless item - a match - to a stranger whom you'd never see again). The students failed, but I think I found the answer yesterday.

The benefit, you see, is perception. That person who received the match will have an increased (if artificial) appraisal of humanity. In some small way, that will influence his interactions with other people. And, in some small way, you'll know that you've done your part to stack the deck.

That's the funny thing about morality. If enough people believe in something that's false, it becomes true. And if that's the case, that actually does give the individual an opportunity to make the world a better place.

Okay, that's as close as I'm getting to holiday schmaltz. Happy Festivus, everyone.

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About The Author

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.