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I was getting coffee this morning and when I went to pay the woman behind the counter said, “That’s $2 because the person ahead of you did a ‘pay it forward’ and paid $5 towards the next person.”
“Well, then, let’s keep it rolling,” I replied. “Put five bucks on the next person.”
I had read about the idea, probably in The Atlantic or one of those random East Coast magazines I read when flying. If I’d never heard of the idea I would have been flummoxed but I knew I could keep the ball rolling and “pay it forward” for the next guy.
Apparently some coffee shop in New York kept the ball rolling for a couple days. Someone came in, spotted 5 bucks to the next person, who spotted it to the next, and so on and so on. Everyone committing a random act of kindness for the next guy, spreading a little self-inflicted Robin Hood moment on themselves as they take from their coffee fund and give to the next addict.
Only no one really really contributes and no one really benefits from the game if no one ever accepts the cash.
That was my real dilemma with the $5 kindness discount I received. By playing the game and passing it along to the next person, I didn’t really do anything. It’s like playing “Go Fish” and not drawing any cards or putting anything down. I didn’t pass it along, I just passed.
It’s mildly entertaining for the coffee goers to pass it along, but, in reality, it’s a null game... maybe not entirely null because it does bring a little smile, a thought of kindness and, maybe a moment of reflection (although that’s really what the coffee is for).
The $5 rolls along, like a sock in the dryer, just peeking into view every now and then but never going anywhere. My own mind has been tumbling on the topic -- was it actually rude of me to not accept the gift? Is it really a gift or is the “pass it on” really a game of jump rope -- keep it going as long as you can?
What I should have done was, “I see your random act of kindess and raise it $5 more. And here’s $5 for your trouble, my kind barista.” As the pot of happiness grows, someone is going to strike it rich and get free Frappuccinos for the whole family.
Or maybe the coffee shop will just start handing out free drinks to people who weren’t prepared to drop seven bucks on two cups of coffee and the $5 bill is truly released from its cycle of zero-sum-game latte drinking Robin Hoods.