Pay It Forward… Or Backward

Have you ever read an article or watched a video about a person doing a selfless act for another? It could be something really small, like the cliche helping an old woman across the street. Or sometimes it is rather large, like leaving $100 tip for a down on her luck waitress. Either way, when you see these stories you don’t really think about it happening to you. You think, aww how nice, and you move on with your day.

Two weeks ago I stopped at Starbucks on my way to work. This isn’t the norm for me. I usually make my coffee or stop at Dunkin (theme here: coffee always happens every morning, somehow). But, the Starbucks drive thru is right before the entrance to the highway I take to get to work. So, when I’m running late I usually stop there. That¬†Monday was one of those running late days. I wasn’t in a great mood, I had a headache, and just wasn’t looking forward to the day ahead. I pulled up to Starbucks, gave them my order, and proceeded to the window. As I went to hand the barista my credit card I hear “oh no miss, the woman in front of you paid for your order.” I was shocked. Floored. Literally speechless. The man just stood there with my coffee as I tried to find words. “Oh, uh, wow. Wow, that is so nice. Well, uh, wow. Ok, I’ll pay for the person behind me then. Wow.” So I handed over my credit card to pay for the coffee order in the car behind me, gathered my credit card and coffee, and off I went. On with my day. Unphased. Yeah, no.

I thought about that selfless, small act of kindness all day. I told about five different co-workers in my morning meeting. I came home and told my parents. I told friends when I saw them the next weekend. Everyone’s reaction was similar “huh. Wow. That’s, wow. That’s really nice.”

Why does this seem so weird to us? Why is it odd to do a good deed, or be kind to someone? I’d like to think it was just a rare occurrence. Just my friends and I thrown off. But, when I went back to the same Starbucks a week later, I realized it wasn’t some rare occurrence. I was not the only one thrown off when someone did a good deed. I decided to request to pay for the car behind me (AND my own drink). The barista was a different man than had been there the Monday before. “That will be $3.94 miss.” “Ok, but I’d also like to pay for the person’s order behind me.” “What? Oh. Huh. Ok, how kind. Wow. Ok let’s see how I do this.” As he handed my order and credit card back to me he smiled a giant grin so big that you would have thought I just declared world peace. “Thank you miss. Have a great day. Wow. Thank you.” “You too sir.” And off I went.

I’m not writing this to make you feel you should buy someone else’s coffee. I’m not even writing this to make you feel like you should do anything for any other stranger. But, I am writing this to point out it does a make a difference when we do. We hear about “chain reactions” a lot. I mean I’ve seen this type of chain reaction portrayed on commercials. You hold a door open for someone, they help another person with groceries, who helps an elderly person cross the street, and so on. I counted and I told or impacted 13 people: the car behind me that I ended up paying for that first Monday, my parents, my friends, my co-workers. If just half of that group helped someone else because of hearing about my coffee angel, that’s almost 20 people. See, chain reaction. And all I had to do was pay for coffee.

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