Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Human nature and the lawnmower

The 'Johnny B Lawnmower Fund' ended up being a very interesting social experiment. Just for the sake of background, we had the story of the Oregon couple that refused to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding and were fined $135,000. They set up a fundraiser on GoFundMe but GoFundMe took it down citing a violation of the their terms and conditions. Which got me to wondering how easy would it be to start an online fundraiser. As it turns out, it was very easy. Took all of 45 seconds.

For the record, the lawnmower for Johnny B was my idea. I’ve heard his stories of push-mowing his 3 acres and borrowing riding lawnmowers from neighbors. I know people love the man and thought it would be interesting to see how (or if) they would respond with their money.

The response basically broke down into three groups. I anticipated the first group of people, those who either donated to the cause because they love Johnny B and wanted him to have a new mower or they didn't donate but still wanted him to have it. These were the folks who saw this for what it was, a way to do something nice for a great guy.

I also saw the second category coming, those who thought the cause was frivolous and thought we should give the money to charity. I heard from several of these people who could name all sorts of causes that were more in need than Johnny B and a lawnmower. Of course, I could list a bunch that were less worthy. Although I disagreed with the second category, I could certainly understand their point.

However, I did not see Category 3 coming. These were folks who were actually consumed with jealousy and anger, so much so that several even petitioned our program director to fire us. One lamented how he only had a push mower and was saving to put his daughter through college and it wasn't fair that Johnny B was getting a new mower for free. In fact, he thought it was outrageous. While he was at it, he attacked me for talking about working on my boat. (I guess he doesn't have one of those, either) Apparently he doesn’t know that my “boat” was about two steps away from the scrap yard when I bought it. Apparently, he thinks I’m Aristotle Onassis. 

The morning after we launched the campaign I got an e-mail from Johnny B. He didn’t feel right about taking the money. He sort of fell into Category 2. He said there were all sorts of causes that were much more worthy of people’s money. I told him I understood his feelings but it was my opinion that people wanted him to have that mower. Ultimately it was his call.

As we prepared to go to air, Johnny and I had a quick conversation. He wanted to give the money to charity and I respected his wishes. So, we explained the situation as we went on and I must admit I did not anticipate the response. (Another interesting social experiment) Many of the people who had given were upset. They said they gave the money specifically to Johnny B and our switching the cause to some unnamed charity was deceptive. We were in the proverbial Catch-22. That’s when I had the idea to put a poll on our website at and let the people decide. Before our people could post the poll, we got a very interesting phone call. The caller pointed out that we had already posted a poll. I asked him to explain. He said we set up a GoFundMe account and people could either donate or they could choose not to. That was the poll. I had to admit, it was a great point.

And it got me to thinking about those three categories of people. The first category was delighted to see Johnny B with a new mower but the other two were less so. Why? Why would someone care if Johnny B got a mower or not? As one tweeter pointed out, “What does this have to do with charity? This is a gift. You don’t have to be poor to receive gifts.” Another great point.

Category 1 has it right. They come upon an opportunity to give something to someone they’ve enjoyed on the radio for years and they’re genuinely happy for him. No jealousy. No comparing Johnny B to their own lives and whether he “deserves” it based on what life has dealt them.

Category 2 has a good heart but they’re overthinking it. As the tweeter pointed out, “You don’t have to be poor to receive gifts.” And that’s what this is. It’s not a charity. It’s a gift from those who have listened to the show and have appreciated what Johnny B brings to it. If you’re constantly overthinking where money goes then you probably need to forego that movie or that nice restaurant because there will always be a worthier cause than your own selfish desires. You can drive yourself crazy doing that. Just relax and understand that Johnny B getting a lawnmower is not taking anything away from the earthquake victims in Nepal or the starving children in Bangladesh. In fact, feel good in knowing that the $20 someone gave to the lawnmower fund is $20 less given to some carbon-spewing, minimum-wage-paying, multinational corporation.

The folks in the third category have some serious problems to work through. Everything in life is filtered through the prism of how unfair life has been to them. It’s not fair that someone gets something that they want when they don’t have it. They are eaten up with envy. Remember, as our senior research analyst says, envy is the mirror image of greed. Isn’t there something in the Bible about thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s lawnmower? Of course, there’s always someone who can look at you the same way. For the jealous guy with the push mower there’s some cat cutting his grass with a pair of scissors and just fuming over the guy with the luxurious push mower. (Self-propelled, as he later admitted. Such conspicuous consumption)

At the end of the day, I learned a great deal about human nature. When I devised this little experiment I knew we’d be creating a storm. I just didn’t realize it would be a category 3. 

(If you would like to give Johnny B the gift of a riding lawnmower, click here and give what’s in your heart. His aching back will thank you.)

Phil Valentine is the host of the award-winning, nationally syndicated talk radio show, The Phil Valentine Show.


  1. Just let the guy get his mower, and I agree that he should get the mower v. giving it to charity. People gave to that fund specifically for that reason, and such that where the money needs to be spent. JMHO.
    Ron E.

  2. You don't have to be poor to receive gifts. I love it. Why shouldn't a man who goes to work everyday be rewarded every now and then. I hope he gets a turbo diesel zero turn.

  3. So,...will Johnny B get the lawn mower or not? I hope he gets it!!
    Sherry in Wilmington

  4. Phil and Johnnie B. have saved my day for years with their humor and conservative values while I struggle with traffic, even listened to you when I left Nashville for a brief time in Nevada......YOU DESERVE THE MOWER

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