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.