Pay It Forward. The redemption of all humanity lies in those three words. One person, having been the recipient of the kindness of a stranger, acts to make the life of a third soul better in return. The notion elevates the spirit and elicits hope in a world gone mad. An idea; it begins with one person.
“Welcome to Starbucks! Please pull through and pay for others.”
– Recently, a drive-thru customer placed an order and offered to pay for the person behind them in line. The Starbucks employees then took the pay it forward idea to the next level by asking customers to continue the forward paying by telling people: “someone has paid for your order, would you continue the forwarding and pay for the person behind you?” This continued for awhile until some heartless, latte with extra foam at the mouth obsessed caffeine addict, who hates Haley Joel-Osment and couldn’t be derailed from getting a fix, chose not to partake, tipped the barista, and thus ended the tradition-in-the-making of the forward thinking payers and staff. (The man had actually gone to the Starbucks to deliberately stop the pay it forward program, which is also flat out ridiculous)
In the movie of the same name, when a wealthy man is helped and then “returns the favor” by giving his car to a man who was in an accident, the natural progression of the pay it forward ideal is on display. This is quite different than the employee implemented pay it forward program at Starbucks, supposedly inspired by the noble pay it forward ideal. When the actions of one person, choosing to give to another, are publicized and then utilized to pressure and persuade others to do the same, pay it forward transforms into a social obligation. This is compulsion disguised as good nature.
The foundation and purity of paying it forward is in the very first action. The instigator acts with the idealistic hope that the world will be made better, one person at a time. One person is helped and then must choose to act to help another. The manner and circumstances of the next step rely on the judgement of the “forwarding payer”. This choice lies at the heart of the distinction between cooperative aid and compulsive welfare.
Even seemingly benign persuasion, such as a barista informing a driver of the circumstances, places social pressure onto the situation, corrupting the self-driven desire to actually pay it forward. One person who decides to anonymously purchase a drink for another deserves the brief esteem and the joyful smile that accompanies such action. The next person in line does not yet possess such moral clout. The benevolent baristas, and their promotion of groupthink, deny the second customer the choice each one of us has every time we approach a counter to check out. At any time we can pay for the refreshments of others. When such a choice is made, make sure it is a choice; not the clinging collective bandwagon’s hollow infatuation with the generosity of one person who made a genuine choice to give to another.