What Does Paying It Forward Really Mean?

AS THE FAMILY  returned home from our Sunday outings, my husband read an on-line article about the “heartwarming” story of 1000 people in a row paying for each other’s Starbucks orders. He looked at me with a disgusted expression and asked, “How is that heartwarming?”
His point: the people waiting in line at Starbucks for their coffee can afford what they are buying, otherwise they’d be using that money for something they really need. (I use survey websites to get Starbucks for free, but I also don’t go everyday.)  Paying for someone else’s coffee is a nice gesture, but where’s the real meaning? Is this what people do to feel good about themselves these days?
People may call this Paying It Forward, but in this woman’s opinion, the true meaning of the term seems to be lost on the media. Paying It Forward is receiving a substantial amount of help when you need it because someone really cares to help out, and then you pass that compassion that on when you have the means.
For example, a young family struggles to make ends meet, so another individual helps them pay for their kids’ school tuition one year, removing part of a finical burden. Several years later, the receiver of that gift owns his own profitable business, so he uses his assets to help a few students attend a class trip they would otherwise miss. This legacy will be remembered years down the road when one of these students has the means to help another student in a similar situation. This kind of story is truly heartwarming, and is usually unknown except by a very few involved. These givers don’t seek out recognition and want to remain anonymous.
Kind gestures are nice, and our society needs kindness in order to function. We hold the door open for the person coming behind us, let the elderly couple go ahead in line at the fast food restaurant, or let the young mom towing two young kids with a cart load go ahead at the store, even if we only have a few items. These acts show that we care for our neighbors and that we have empathy for their situations. We’ve been there or we will be.
If you are at Starbucks and really want to do something heartwarming, give your hot grande pumpkin latte to the homeless man freezing his ass off on the corner. Serve coffee at a homeless shelter. Donate a week’s worth of that Starbucks cash to your local food pantry. When you see a family making good food choices with their government food assistance, pay for their groceries so that they can buy healthy meals for an extra week.
I’m not saying give up the small kind gestures we should do for each other everyday of the year. We need to reverse the contagion of rudeness and indifference that spreads over this country like the common cold. In fact, do a kind deed everyday for a stranger, something as simple as holding open the door.  You’d be amazed how just that can make someone’s day.


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