As a teenager, on a trip to visit my Aunt and Uncle on Orcas Island, Washington, I came across a flower stand with the most charming bouquets. The remarkable thing about this vibrant display was that you could just take your pick of flowers and leave the money in the coffee tin.
I remember standing there for a while and looking for a hidden camera. I remember how feeling trusted made me want to pay extra. I remember how the bouquet I picked seemed to bloom for weeks and I remember thinking that I wished more systems and the people behind them had displayed this kind of faith in the transactions that were a part of every day.
I am happy to report that the honor system is alive and well. How do I know?
- We have rented cabins in holiday villages throughout the summer in 10 countries and each reception has a room full of things to borrow. No sign-in sheets or sing-out books, no attendant just a simple request to return things after using them. We have borrowed everything from Scrabble to boogie boards from these closets and magically all the games have their pieces and there are precious notes, written by little hands, when something gets accidentally broken saying things like, “I smashed the ping pong ball. I am sorry. I will replace it. Please tell me how much.”
- At many hotels in Scandinavia, a large, wonderful breakfast buffet is included in the stay. We witnessed many business meetings in these huge hotels and people coming and going from the buffet with no checks and balances or proof necessary. Some folks would stop at the register and pay but they usually had to wave someone down to give their money too. We never once were asked for our room key or room number and eventually we stopped even bringing our proof with us as we have grown so accustomed to throughout our lives.
- In Denmark, we were asked if we set our parking disc when we parked at the Legoland Hotel. When we inquired further, we learned a parking disc is a little cardboard or plastic clock and you set the hands for the time you enter the lot. There is a sign in the lot that posts how long you can stay for free and they trust you to set the hands to your actual arrival time. These clocks are used for free lots or delivery trucks etc.
- The kids have played on trampolines with no nets, swimming pools with no fences, play structures with missing slides and duct taped zip-lines. The general attitude is if you get hurt, do it differently next time or pick a new spot to play.
We laughed every time we set the parking clock, giddy that the honor system is alive and well. Yesterday we played putt-putt with clubs that were left out for our enjoyment. The system is not perfect, and there will always be pick pockets and grumpy “cash-only” folks here and there. Our experience, however, more often than not, is that the honor system surprises us almost daily and the trust builds community and accountability and . . . It works!