The Sidewalk Experiment

I don’t recommend trying this experiment to the extent that I did,as it was long ago and not very well thought out.

A few days ago it was a Facebook post that brought this memory back from the deep dark closet of my mind. Without thinking I instantly commented on a  post and then we ended up continuing the conversation offline with the moderator of the post. 

I often forget that when I comment on a post the whole world can see what I wrote.

That is how it someone from Tickle.Life saw the conversation and asked me how I came up with this experiment. I was honest and shared that  back in those days I didn’t often think things through very well and I would do things and then suffer the consequences later. I was then asked if I would be willing to  share my experiment.

A bit of background on  how the experiment came to be. 

I was taking a 6 credit Art / Sociology class, in the class we had month-long debate style conversations on a variety of  topics: Are people more good or bad, are people only good only when they are being watched? Will people be unethical when they don’t think they are at risk of being caught? I had to write a paper on the topic and I felt like I needed to test things first hand.  I asked my professor if it would be okay to do a public experiments to test things out first hand. My first experiment took place in a public restroom, I spent 6 hours watching people come and go carefully keeping track of people who left without washing their hands and those washed. 

I went home and started to write my paper and quickly realized that that hand washing  was not a good enough test. What could I do? I wanted to do something daring and risky.I wanted to prove that most people were good! 

The next morning, I told a friend that I wanted to put myself out in the world and give people an opportunity to love or hate me and to see what they would choose. At first my friend thought I was crazy but after a few beers my friend double dog dared me.

I accepted the challenge and  the next day I went shopping. 

My shopping list included press and peel notes now called post it notes, markers, sewing needles and thread, scissors, glue, glitter and a variety of  other inexpensive items.

Now to prepare for my experiment. I stuck all the items in a bag along with a hand printed with a sign that said- “Do as you wish”. I took the bus to the Seattle waterfront and my friend came along as a witness. I gave him strict instructions that he was not to interfere or participate in my experiment.

Once I found a spot to set up I duct taped the sign on the ground, I took off all my clothes and put them in a bag and left them about 20 feet away. I sat down on the  sidewalk I and people started to walk towards me. I kept my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut and I held completely still or at least I tried to be as still as possible. 

People stopped and read the sign, some lingered, maybe they were waiting to see what I was going to do. Other passerby’s speed up as they approached me and tried not to look at me. Some folks picked up the markers and wrote on the sticky notes while others wrote directly on my body.

Slut, whore, freak, bitch, Cunt, ugly, sinful were some of the words written directly on my skin. On the sticky notes were kinder words, people drew hearts and smiley faces , brave, courageous, strong, hope, kindness, thought provoking.

One person took the needle and thread and carefully sewed 9 sticky notes together and then very gently  sewed them onto my skin, one word per sticky note. How-far-will-she-let-me-go-with-this?– I did not move; I held my breath. My god what was I doing this for! 

Another person took the scissors and cut a bunch of my hair all the way down to my scalp and then used it with the glue and glitter to give me a hairy, glittery chest.

Another passerby stopped and picked up a paperclip, that he used to cut me and another person came along and put a bandaid on the spot that was cut. Some people just stood by and watched and one lady put her sweater on me. 

Someone drew a tear on my face with a permanent marker while  another wrote a poem down my legs.

Two hours or so as a  sidewalk display was enough for me , but people continued to stop and leave notes around me and on me. I closed my eyes and curled up into the fetal position sobbing, while people continued to write on me.

I stayed there curled up on display for an additional 40 minutes or so which felt like hours. 

 Eventually the police showed up. They told me to put my clothes on but I refused to move, I refused to talk, I continued my experiment. I had a crowd around me by now and people were shouting at me and the police. I was trying not to show emotions, I had been slapped and spit on, kissed and hugged, written on, poked and cut and pinched and kicked. I had put myself there for them, to see what they would do.

Some people were kind and tried to protect me while others had fun being cruel and abusive.  At last a stranger covered me up with a large coat  and helped me to my feet, and the police left me in care of a kind stranger. I stood there silent until my crowd of voyeurs started to leave. As my audience disappeared I stood there wrapped in the coat  and then I softly said, thank you all! And then I walked to the bus stop wrapped in a large coat , covered in messages, my friend was there with my bag of clothes in his hand, I had a lot to think about on the ride home. 

Being curious and doing experiments is part of who I am. I like to take chances and I believe that taking risks is an important part of living.

I have learned the most about by people from similar less dramatic experiments.

Being vulnerable requires a bit of faith in others and  a lot of trust. I found that what works for me is trusting people until they give me a reason not to trust them anymore.

Since my original experiment almost 40 years ago, I have tried to live my life by allowing myself to be vulnerable to others and in doing this I have had some amazing experiences and as well as some not so pleasant times. The sidewalk experiment was eye opening for me as it helped  me realize that I had limits and that I needed to acknowledge my limits and my tolerance levels. The experiment helped me see that my focus moving forward in life should be to trust and love myself first before putting myself out to the world to trust and love others. (easier said than done)!!!

Over the years I have found that when people love and respect you they treat you with love, kindness , compassion and respect.  When you are vulnerable around those who are not so good, you can get hurt , taken advantage and in some situations abused. 

I prefer to live my life risking being hurt and enduring some pain in hopes of receiving kindness and love in return, but  in real life it doesn’t always work out that way. I don’t need someone  telling me how much they love or like me as I am a true believer that Actions Speak Volumes Over Words. 

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