Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pay It Backwards

wkm wkd graphic3.tifA few years ago, there was a movement that began in drive-thru lanes.  I believe it actually started at Starbucks.  The idea was to pay for the order of the person in the car behind you.  Just to be nice.  Of course, the person in that car, because their order had been paid, then paid for the car behind them.  Servers working the window said they had seen it pass through 7 or 8 cars at a time.  It was inspiring.  And I vowed to do this myself.

I have long been fascinated by the Random Acts of Kindness movement.  I try to be a nice person, to help others.  I try to treat others as I would like to be treated.  I open doors for people and leave the change in the “take a penny, leave a penny” bowl, I tip well, I do things for friends and family, I give to charity.  But rarely do I do something so direct for someone for absolutely no reason.  Mostly because I struggle when people do something nice for me.

Last year, my daughter and I were eating at a Japanese hibachi style restaurant.  It was a slow Sunday evening and they were not busy.  There was a family at our table that appeared to be parents, their grown child and the grown child’s spouse.  They were apparently frequent diners as they spoke to all the servers and the manager came over an talked with them, using their first names.  They ordered several appetizers, sushi, and one of the most expensive dinner combinations that included a lobster tail.  My daughter and I were friendly but mostly we were involved in our own conversation.  When our dinners were prepared, the cook placed a lobster tail on a plate and placed it in front of my daughter and me, indicating that our dining neighbor had purchased it for us.  Surprised, we thanked him several times and enjoyed it.  Sort of.  As we left, we thanked him again.

Later in the car, we discussed the incident.  I admitted that I felt a little suspicious, a little guilty, a little offended even.   Suspicious – why would he do that?  What does he want?  Guilty – I should do something for him.  How do I repay this?  Offended – does he think I can’t afford lobster?  What if I am allergic to lobster?  Who does he think he is?  But in the end, I just said “thank you” because I didn’t really know what else to do.  My daughter said she felt all the same things.  We had a very long discussion about feelings and our tendency to over-think things.

Some time later I was sitting in the line at Chick-fil-A, thinking.   It went like this . . . I should pay for the man behind me.  I am lucky that I have a job and a home and the ability to pay for someone else’s dinner at a drive-thru.  Then I started to think way too much. . . That man behind me is in a huge truck.  It looks new.  What if he is offended?  What if he thinks I want something?  There are so many people that need help, why should I help a man in a giant, expensive truck at Chick-fil-A?  Stop thinking and just do it.  You are over-analyzing the situation and judging him.  The goal is to just be nice.  Maybe he is rich and grumpy and this act would cause him to be nice to some other poor person tomorrow.  

And by the time I got to the window to pay, I had talked myself out of it.  Then I spent the next few hours feeling stupid and a little guilty for turning a random act of kindness into something altogether stupid and even a little unkind.

I shared this story with my daughter and friend Robin.  A few days later, my daughter was in a drive-thru and decided to make up for my craziness.  She had a small order so she decided to pay for the person behind her.  She told the server at the window who thought she was just so sweet.  My daughter felt happy.  Ahhhhhh, this is the way it’s supposed to be.  Then the server told her the total for the car behind her; $12.56.  (I don’t really remember how much it was but it was like 4 times what her order was.)  She said she thought she was paying for one person and didn’t consider that there might be more people in the car.  Suddenly, she was a little ticked.  I think her exact words were “this idea sucks!”  When she shared this with Robin and me, we all laughed at our experiences and decided that we needed to find another way to be nice to people. 

I think Robin did it right though.  A few months ago, she was in line at a convenience store.  There was an older woman in line in front of her and it was taking a long time.  The woman was going through her wallet and pockets, trying to find every penny and she was still short of the total.  The clerk was waiting and the others in line were getting impatient.  Robin stepped forward and paid the difference, just a few dollars.  The woman thanked her with tears in her eyes.  Robin told her it was not problem.  The woman waited outside the store and when Robin came out out, thanked her again, asking what she could do to repay her.  Robin told her that she hoped the woman will get the opportunity to help someone else one day and that would be thanks enough.

Robin felt great, the woman was grateful.  Robin saw someone in need and she helped them.  She didn’t over think it or worry about the feelings of the person she helped.  She just did it because it was the right thing to do.  That is truly a random act of kindness.
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Wanda said...

Loved your entire post, most interesting....but you captured it all in your last paragraph with the way Robin did her random act of kindness...
I read a book once, and loved it called ~~ Seize the Divine Moment. It was all about seizing opportunities to be kind by just doing it, like Robin.

What a great way to live!!!! I loved that old movie Play it Forward too.

Have a great week Tere!

Anonymous said...

Nice blog you got here... Just droppin' by to say hi!

Ruth D~ said...

You and I sound alike on the over thinking part. I've talked myself out of many a thing for the same reasons. I'd have done things Robins way though... not chance to think. :>)

Nice post.