I’ll admit that when I first saw the Facebook “Pay it Forward” chain status, I thought it was pretty great.
But let me walk you through my thoughts in the next thirty seconds.
“Oh! How cool that people all over Facebook are going to pay-it-forward! Wait, if I participate then I have to repost the status and then pay it forward to five people who comment on my status. I haven’t even sent out my thank-you cards for my baby shower yet. I’m so not responsible enough to play along. Oh well, I still like the concept.” *Presses like button* “Oh snap! I just liked that status. Can I like the status and still not participate? I don’t want to play along! Will she think I’m selfish for only liking the status and not playing too? Wait, I don’t like this.”That moment, ladies and gentlemen, is the moment I suddenly realized that I did not like nor did I agree with the chain pay it forward.
Don’t think I’m totally selfish, I’m not. I’ve paid it forward before, in a million ways. I pay it forward every time I take in a homeless animal, both for the animal and often the human it usually comes from.
I’m certain you’ve paid it forward many times, also. You did it when you loaned your buddy money because his card was stolen. Or how about that time you called in a pizza and listened to your bestie cry because she needed you? Or maybe when you sent flowers to your mom for no reason and she smiled all day long because of it.
That’s paying it forward.
Paying it forward isn’t doing something you feel pressured into. It’s certainly not being chatted about online as the one who “broke the Starbucks chain”. It’s not by participating on Facebook and saying, “I’ll do something for five people if you do something for me!”
When I think about paying it forward, this is the story I most vividly remember:
One time I paid a lady’s ticket at Chick-Fil-A. It isn’t something I usually do, since I’ve been poor since forever. But this stranger did something nice for me that she didn’t have to do, and I felt like paying her ticket was a wonderful way to say, “thank you.”
That day I pulled in to a different side of Chick-Fil-A than I usually do. The restaurant was so busy that I found myself stuck behind a revolving circle of cars that were entering from the other side, pulling up so fast that I couldn’t get in. Car after car zipped in front of me, not allowing me to go anywhere.
I felt more and more frustrated at the rude selfishness of each passing person. After about ten cars purposefully slipping into the line, one lady saw me and stopped. She mentioned me to go ahead in front of her. I waved and pulled into the line, relieved that I wasn’t stuck anymore.
Somewhere in the next few minutes of waiting, I decided that I would pay for her ticket. I didn’t have anyone in my car to show off for, nor has anyone ever paid for my ticket, and she certainly didn’t ask for money while sitting in the car behind me. I had never paid for anyone’s meal before, and I imagined myself feeding a car full of needy kids and an overwhelmed mom crying her thanks.
So I paid for her ticket, imagining the whole time what her face would look like, how she would feel, and how much of a hero I might be. How’s that for all the wrong reasons?
Do you want to know what I most remember about that moment? I remember what she bought. She only bought a chicken sandwich. Her ticket was less than a measly $4.
I told the lady at the counter to tell her “thanks” for letting me in. The lady smiled broadly at me and nodded, and I smiled back with a fat Coke in one hand and a full meal in the passenger seat next to me, swallowing hard at the realization that I probably wasn’t her hero.
I was a little disappointed that she bought so little. It poked a hole in my over-sized giving balloon at a ridiculous speed.
But y’all, I don’t know what the meant for her. I don’t know if she only had a $5 bill and was hungry. Or if she forgot her wallet and only had enough change for a sandwich. Maybe she just wanted a snack and didn’t miss that $4 at all.
After I thought about it, I didn’t really care, either.
Because the truth is, I wasn’t the one who paid it forward. She was.
When you pay-it-forward, you do it without expectations or requirements. She didn’t expect me to pay for her meal simply for letting me in the line. She didn’t say, “I’ll let you in line if you give to five more people.” In fact, I bet she didn’t even expect me to let people in line like she did for me.
But I remember her act of kindness and my feelings when she did, and now I let others in line, too. Isn’t that what “paying it forward” means? That you continue an act of kindness because someone did it for you?
Not because you feel guilty. Not because you participated in a chain. But because you remember the quiet feeling of thanks and relief toward another human being and have a desire to show that same kindness for someone else.
If you’re participating on the Facebook chain and enjoying it, please carry on. I certainly won’t tell you how to give to others.
But when I choose not to participate, don’t judge me.
Because y’all, I would much rather pay-it-forward in the free, spontaneous ways that I find hold the most meaning. I want to tell people they’re loved without them having to ask me for it. Without the expectation that they have to continue the chain. And without feeling apprehensive or guilty for not following the crowd.