Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Not paying it forward at Starbucks...

You've heard of the concept of of "paying it forward", right?  Basically, it means a person does something unexpectedly kind for another person.  It could mean mowing someone's lawn for them without being asked, or anonymously paying their check at a restaurant, or removing the snow and ice from their sidewalk in the winter.  When a person "pays it forward", they do it hoping their kindness will catch on and inspire others to do the same.

A Florida blogger named Peter Schorsch recently made the news for "deliberately scuttling" a Starbucks "pay it forward streak".   Mr. Schorsch went to Starbucks and was advised that one of the two cups of coffee he purchased had already been paid for by the person who had come before him.  The barista then asked him if he, too, wanted to pay it forward for the person who came after him.

Schorsch accepted the free cup of coffee, but declined to pay it forward.  Instead, he tipped the barista $100.  Now he's coming under fire for not playing along with the pay it forward scheme and deliberately ending it.

A lot of my friends think Peter Schorsch was an asshole to do what he did.  In fact, even Bill thinks the man was wrong to rain on Starbucks' parade.  I happen to see this situation in a different light.

One of the reasons Schorsch didn't participate is because it didn't seem like a genuine "pay it forward" act.  He maintains that a lot of people participated because they felt guilty or were influenced by peer pressure.  Schorsch explains that it's not "paying it forward" if you're not doing your favor anonymously or spontaneously.  I happen to agree with him on this.  He came into the store wanting to buy two cups of coffee.  Had he participated in the pay it forward scheme, he would have spent the same amount of money because he would have paid for the one cup that wasn't paid for and the one he would be buying for the next person.  At some point, someone would have gotten a free cup of coffee.  Why shouldn't it have been him?

While I think the "pay it forward" idea at Starbucks is a good one for making people smile, to me, Mr. Schorsch did pay it forward when he gave the barista $100.  My guess is that a lot of people working for Starbucks need tip money more than their customers need a $4 cup of coffee.  Likewise, had Mr. Schorsch gone to the grocery store and anonymously paid $100 on someone's grocery order, that would have seemed more like a random act of kindness.  People need groceries.  While they may think they need Starbucks, they probably really don't need it as much as a struggling parent needs help paying for diapers.

Of course, if you pay for a random stranger's coffee without expecting anything in return, that could possibly be considered paying it forward.  But paying for coffee because the barista suggests it and you don't want to look like a selfish asshole is not really paying it forward in my opinion.

A couple of my friends have blasted Mr. Schorsch for hearing about the activity and deliberately messing it up, then writing an article about it.  He's a writer, though, and that's what writers do.  And if he hadn't written about it, I wouldn't be writing about it because I almost never go to Starbucks.

I will say that this incident did spark an interesting political debate among my Facebook friends.  I have friends from every political stripe and the ones arguing over this had a lot to say about Schorsch because he's apparently a Republican.  I usually try to stay out of political debates, but I have to admit that sometimes they are entertaining.  

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