Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pay It Forward

Last Friday, I had to cross one of our bay area bridges. When I got to the toll plaza, I had my five dollars cash in my hand, ready to hand over to the toll taker. When my car finally rolled up to the window, the toll taker pointed to the driver in front of me, and said "He paid your toll". Me: "Excuse me?" "He paid your toll." Me, incredulously: "What?" "That driver paid your toll. You can go!"

Hmmm....what is the world coming to? I thought. Later that day, a colleague mentioned to me that the concept of "Pay It Forward" had been mentioned on the radio, and one of the suggestions was to pay the toll of a complete stranger. I had heard of the concept, seen the movie. So, I thought, OK, I'll try it. The next day, I handed my Starbucks card (with a ten dollar balance) over to a complete stranger behind me in line. I added five dollars, because if I only handed over five dollars, then I figured I wasn't really paying it forward, I was only passing it on.

But, you know what? It didn't really do anything for me. Did the well dressed guy behind me really need someone to give him ten dollars? Probably not. What about the homeless person sleeping under the bridge down the street? Or children in third world countries without schools? I would rather my five dollars go to help re-build Haiti, rather than someone in a Mercedes crossing the bay bridge.

"Pay-It-Forward" is not a new concept. It has been done for years by volunteers who mentor children, by anyone who has stood up for civil rights or peace, and anyone who has worked to clean up our environment. These are the people who are trying to make the world a better place for the next generation, and generation after that. Tossing five dollars to the guy behind you in line is easy. Giving of your time takes more effort but in the long run, this is what really pays it foward.

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