The Giving Spirit, or Would You Like Fries with That?

Did anyone else see this CNN headline where “Over 900 cars paid for each other’s meals at a Dairy Queen drive-thru”? The article is all about this act of kindness, and one person even says that it restored their faith in humanity. Sure, it is a nice gesture, and I don’t deny that paying it forward is a nice thing.

And here’s the but. You knew it was coming, right? BUT I don’t really believe that it’s a true act of kindness. There, I said it. Everyone in that Dairy Queen line planned on purchasing their own meal with the money they had in their wallets. Presumably, they could spare the money because, you know, they were in line at Dairy Queen. They also didn’t go out to DQ with the intention of helping others. They just wanted ice cream. Or a hot dog. Or whatever.

So, I ask you, is a trail of strangers paying for each other’s meals because they’re afraid to “break the chain” really an act of kindness?

During the holiday season, we see stories like this all the time. And I always wonder, is it really kindness that motivates these people? Or is it the satisfaction of feeling like they did something kind? It might just be my holiday spirit of cynicism (just kidding, I have that all year round), but this so-called kindness cost them nothing. There was no serious outlay of funds, no work, and no effort. And arguably, it did nothing to better the world, nor did it — and here’s the kicker — even impact the people in the Dairy Queen line.

Sure, the first person in line had double the bill because they paid for their own ice cream and the guy behind him, but the 899 people after that paid for just one meal. An expenditure they had already planned on, um, expending. Granted, it might have been more than they bargained for because they didn’t know what the car behind them ordered. It also could’ve been much less than they were expecting. But generally, it likely wasn’t much different than they would’ve spent on their own meal. I mean, it’s Dairy Queen after all.

Wouldn’t a true act of kindness or, rather, a further-reaching act of kindness contribute to individuals who need it the most? Like people who can’t afford Dairy Queen in the first place.

Instead, wouldn’t it be kinder for each of these 900 people to donate $10 towards feeding the homeless, supporting the traumatized and abused, or helping an animal shelter? That would be $9,000 and let me tell you, that adds up to some serious help for those in need during the holidays.

Sure, these people are helping out strangers. I guess. I mean, the argument has been made. That’s great. But they’re not really giving much, if anything, to the person behind them because that person then pays the same amount — or close to it — that they would’ve spent anyway, except now it’s on the family in the Chevy behind them in line.  This whole exercise in kindness seems moot if you ask me…. and yeah, yeah, I know you didn’t.  If anything, they’re giving themselves the satisfaction of feeling like a good person. Think about it. If they just said thanks and drove away, they’d feel like guilty grinches!

I’d much rather see a story where 900 people pay for a stranger’s meal at a restaurant that pays it forward to the homeless. For example, some restaurants take donations (the cost of a meal) and issue tickets to keep on hand or tacked up to a board or whatever. Then, when a homeless person is in obvious need of sustenance, the restaurant can offer a hot meal based on someone’s week-old kindness. This kind of difference would be much more meaningful.

And you would know that every person who donated did so because they wanted to — not because they felt like they had to or because someone else did it first.

 

‘Tis the Season to be Grumpy

I hate people. You guys know that. And as much as I hate people, one might also assume I am not a charitable person. I wouldn’t blame you for taking that leap. However, you would be wrong. Ha! Plot twist!  Didn’t see that coming, did you?  You probably thought I was related to Scrooge or something. Nope, nope, and nope.

While I don’t have much, I give back whenever and however I can. I donate my time to animal advocacy and other humanitarian causes, and every year I donate to Toys for Tots and the children’s mitten/hat tree at my local social services.  I do what I can when I can.

But, admittedly, for the most part all I want is to go about my day and be left alone. Like today, for instance. I had to go to the store for some last-minute Christmas odds and ends, and while there, decided to get a coffee. The Salvation Army bell-ringer, who I liken to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in so many ways, was there, as they have been since Thanksgiving.

The most I get from the nice, older woman who rings her holiday bell is Good Evening, Merry Christmas. And me, I say Thank You and Happy Holidays to you as well. Pleasantries exchanged, we go back to our respective business. It’s all very amiable if not standoffish.  I’m fine with that. Happy with that, in fact.

Today, there was a gentleman ringing the bell, and he stood inside the little vestibule where the carts are instead of on the sidewalk outside the door. As I was leaving the grocery store with my bags and latte in hand, I guess he felt the need to share his um… ardent … opinion on my egregious financial – and charitable – decisions.

To make a long rant short, apparently if I have money to buy a latte, I have money to give to the Salvation Army, and by doing otherwise, I should be ashamed of myself. Now, this last bit, if I’m honest, made me smile a little. I mean, I’ve had much better people than him lay a guilt-trip on me, so his repartee fell somewhat flat.

I will interject here to say that if you donate to the Salvation Army, great, good for you — truly. Personally, their beliefs, as an organization, are contrary to mine and because of that, I specifically will not donate to them. Even if I had cash in my pocket (which I never do – I’m a card-carrying consumer) I would rather drop it into the “save the animals” jar at the vet or the “buy coats for kids” bucket at the hardware store than give it to the Salvation Army. But again, that’s just me. To each their own with regards to charity.

Like many things in life, charitable giving is a very personal choice.

However, to be perfectly frank, even if it were an organization I do support, I’d be hard put to dig into my pockets after being confronted in such a manner.

I know the bell ringers are paid, I’ve seen the want-ads. Whether or not they work partly on commission, I have no idea. Maybe that’s what prompted this gentleman to approach me the way he did. Maybe he needed a caffeine boost of his own. Maybe he was just feeling snarky. Who knows. I do wonder, though, if he approached any men in the same way he did me. Would he have had that same desire to belittle and shame a man?

I suppose I could have been a tad more altruistic in my response. Truth be told, I’m just a little tired of greeting rudeness with complacency and a smile. My kids weren’t with me (they never let me do anything), which left my tongue free to wag and wag it did.

Hopefully the conversation went the way of the one I had with the Jehovah’s Witnesses who visited my home way-too-early Christmas morning last year. If so, I’ll either be on their list to never approach again or I will be on their prayer cards until the end of time. I guess either one is fine with me. Though I do fervently hope it is the former.

Bah, humbug.