Empty Pots and Free Riders
My work provides free coffee in the employee break rooms. The unspoken convention is that anyone finishing a pot brews a replacement. Simple enough. Yet I will hit the occasional streak where, time and again, I have to brew a pot that was emptied by some unknown coffee drinker - the coffee free rider.
Sure, it's just a minor gripe, but it is irksome at times. This is especially true considering that it only takes 30 seconds to start a new pot. My real issue is this: When I am rushing to my first meeting in the morning, I never know if an empty pot of coffee awaits me. So my morning hangs in the balance, dependent on a pot that may have been mysteriously emptied by a free rider.
Amazingly, in three years, I have never encountered a free rider. Not once. They are an elusive bunch, leaving no clues.
One would surmise from the free rider literature that, over time, more folks would join the free riders and I would face more empty pots per week. However, that has not been the case.
While it is true that free riders cause me some annoyance, the alternative - coerced action - would be much worse. Either I live with free riders or I surrender my freedom. You see, to bring free riders into line is to bring me into line. In the end, the same rules that snare free riders will snare me. And who wants to live with chains?
So I'll ignore the free riders. The price of freedom is never free.