Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pay it forward...

Okay, this is a very different thing from paying down debt or paying in advance or any of those other things having to do with your financial life in these difficult economic times. This is a fun, feel-good thing.

I missed the movie in which this concept was examined, but the other day, out of the blue, I got to experience it first-hand. There I was in a long line at the Starbucks drive-through, already cranky as I went about my early morning chores at Home Depot, Wal-Mart and other big stores with endless opportunities for walking in a fruitless search for what I needed. When I finally arrived at the window to pay, an incredibly perky young clerk announced that the driver ahead of me had paid for my iced cafe mocha. An earlier driver had apparently started the morning's trend of paying it forward...paying the tab for the driver in the car behind. The clerk asked if I was willing to do the same and gave me the charge for the car behind me. It was a bit more than mine, but absolutely worth it to think of the surprise on that driver's face, the same surprise I'm sure was on mine. I was still smiling as I drove away.

Now those of you who've paid attention, know I tend to be a cynic. I'm also an ex-journalist. I question everything. And I'm sure on closer examination, I could find all sorts of reasons why this particular pay it forward experience is just some kind of gimmick. Somebody -- whoever started it that morning -- obviously paid for two orders, their own and the one for the car behind. Whoever turned up solo, when there was no line, probably got nothing free and the person at the end of the long line was the only one who never paid at all. Still, it gave the entire day a whole new spin for me. It had been fun, unexpected, nice. How many times do we ever come away from a long line feeling like that?

So, here's my challenge to you. Do something totally unexpected and nice for someone -- a friend, a total stranger, a family member, it doesn't matter. It just has to come from out of the blue and with the proviso that they pay it forward, that they do the same for someone else on the spur of the moment. Take a bouquet of flowers to a coworker, or some vegetables from your garden. Buy coffee for the person behind you in line.

The key to all of this is to get into the habit of being nice for no good reason, just because it might make someone feel better. I promise it will make you feel better, too. And wouldn't it be nice if we all spent five minutes every day on an act of kindness like this? It might even begin to make a dent in all the rudeness we encounter. Then again there might not be enough free cafe mochas in the world to accomplish that.

Sherryl Woods

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