Pay it forward

I tapped my foot impatiently while the Bank of America teller went to get her supervisor.  I looked around at the marketing, annoyed with every keyword: policy, useful tool, statement, transaction, protection and valued customer. “A couple smiling faces and people will buy anything,” I thought. As the teller walked over, an old woman came bustling up to the counter, skipping the line.

“Can someone help me? My car is stuck and I can’t get out!” She glanced back and forth between the teller and the supervisor. They stalled, probably considering if this fell under their job description. Florida hospitality- gotta love it.

“I’ll help you. Show me your car,” I said as I left my spot in line and followed her outside. Her car was in the middle of the parking lot, a cement block from her spot stuck underneath. It looked like the steel rods that should secure the block to the ground were sticking up about 8 inches. She had driven her wheels up the block and onto the rod when she had parked and now it was vertically locked in her wheel well. Onlookers shook their heads and some asked if they should call a tow truck. I simply told her to turn the wheel to the left. Then I picked up the back end of the block and flipped it on it’s side so the rod was horizontal and shimmied it out from under her bumper and back to the parking spot it belonged to. It took about 5 minutes but the effect was profound. The older woman gave me a big hug, an onlooker made a remark about how nice I was, and when I walked back into the bank, the supervisor told the teller to give me everything I need. “One good deed deserves another,” she remarked as she walked away. I disagree.

We’re all familiar with the concept of Pay it Forward but I find one major flaw in this thinking. The idea is predicated on another cliché- an eye for an eye. If someone treats you with goodwill then you should give that goodwill to another and on down the line it continues. But where does it start? I believe (and correct me if I’m wrong, I often am) Newton said an object in motion stays in motion until it encounters an equal and opposing force. Can this be applied to human relations? Who gives the first push? How often do we give without expecting ANYTHING in return or getting something first? You may have heard that there is ‘No such thing as a free lunch’ and, if my economics teacher taught me anything, it’s true. Someone always has to pay. As a Christian, I’m not afraid to tell you that I believe Jesus paid the ultimate price for my sin. He also had some thoughts on how people should treat each other. He summed it up in just a few words- do onto others as you would have others do onto you.

Some of you just checked out mentally. You may have stopped reading at the word Christian or definitely Jesus, if you made it that far. Your mind recognizes Christian and thinks of all previous associations or stereotypes or hypocrites you’ve seen to claim this identity. You might see the Golden Rule and turn off because you think there is no new learning here. Many of us, myself included, go into the “I know, I know, I know,” mindset. We shut off. This is perfectly normal by the way but I have a small challenge. STOP DOING IT! It’s annoying. The great Ralph Waldo Emmerson said that, “every man is better than me in at least one way- in that I can learn something from him.”  For just this week, see if you are actually treating people how you would like to be treated. To me, it seems the more I do this; the more chances I’m given to show it. Give without expecting anything in return. Be kind even when others are mean. Base your actions and words on the type of person you want to be and not the current circumstances. It will start to solidify into something you can be proud of and something others will want to emulate. I will end with another Carnegie story that hopefully emphasizes this point. The story has to do with a genuine compliment that Carnegie paid a postal worker about his wonderful head of hair. As he shared the story in public later, a man asked him what he was ‘trying to get out [the worker]?’ This is Carnegie’s response verbatim:

“What was I trying to get out of him!!! What was I trying to get out of him!!! If we are so contemptibly selfish that we can’t radiate a little happiness and pass on a bit of honest appreciation without trying to get something out of the other person in return- if our souls are no bigger than sour crab apples, we shall meet with the failure we so richly deserve. Oh yes, I did want something out of that chap. I wanted something priceless. And I got it. I got the feeling that I had done something for him without his being able to do anything whatever in return for me. That is a feeling that flows and sings in your memory long after the incident is past.”  (How to Win Friends and Influence People, p95)

I can’t promise any profound change or insight because of the thoughts I’ve put down here. I only hope to be a reminder that life isn’t fair and neither are people, but you can be. You can stand apart by your conduct, your principles, and your character. Sometimes you just have to change your thinking or put it into action. To the banker, I thank you for your help but I disagree with your conclusion. One good deed doesn’t deserve another but rather encourages another. If you want to make people scratch their heads, treat others, down to the bums on the street corners, how you would like to be treated. That attitude, if shared, can generate ten times the momentum of Pay it forward because the good deed is only the outward expression of an inward change.

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