“Pay it forward” has become a popular feel-good endeavor of late. Not a day goes by that I don’t read or hear a news story or view a Facebook post about someone buying coffee for the next person in line or paying the balance at a grocery store for someone who’s a little short on cash. The hardened skeptic in me wants to look at the motives of the “do-gooder” as self-serving, but I can’t quite bring myself to get there.
I see the joy in the face of the person who’s just shelled out a few dollars and can’t find it in me to condemn the act as self-congratulatory evidence that a person has just attempted to atone for his or her selfishness. The beneficiary in these scenarios seems to feel equal joy, but not so much in the gift as in the fact that it’s given.
My wife would probably say I am too prone to want to give too much to people of questionable deservedness. I turn away from plenty of people seeking a handout, but sometimes I just can’t turn away from a person who seems genuinely destitute and in need. That attitude can have a negative effect on limited personal resources, I’ll admit.
I’ve probably been swindled dozens of times by people who choose to sacrifice their dignity for money, rather than turn to hard work to earn it. But I think I’d rather that be the case than to think I regularly ignore people asking for, or simply needing, a helping hand. But sometimes I do. Maybe the practice of tithing allows people to get around, or to feel they have gotten around, that dilemma? I dunno, I’m just thinking.
Ah, Juan, words from a Masonic ritual, I think. I’ve never understood Masonic secrets, but I gather one commits, always, to look out after his ‘brothers’ through thick and thin. Would we all felt that sense of obligation and compassion.
Not long ago I was on this date with this Russian woman. Now, if you’ve never gone out with a Russian or had Russians in your College classes, they tend to be pretty hard-lined honest and open — even critical of all Americans. After parking the car, we went walking to the restaurant and a beggar-guy came up to me asking for a dollar, so I poked my hand down in my pocket and pulled out a wad of bills, and then snapped a dollar out for him.
As we made distance from this fellow, the Russian said, “Why did you do that? He’s just going to spend it on some beer or wine.”
“You know this for certain?” I asked.
She went into this typical diatribe over how so many are destitute victims of their own making.
“Bullshit,” I thought. You don’t know the “how” of their lot in life. Maybe real alcoholism, drug addiction, but more than likely some avenue of mental illness. What if some are — like my own son — caught in some mis-aligned web of their autism.
Interestingly, less than 30% of so called alcoholics are true alcoholics. Most are self-medicating people who feel alien in the world. They do drink because they are stressed out over some issue.
Now as for paying it forward. I’m not much on that. For me it’s a matter of asking. Something I will always remember and cherish:
“[T]hat I will always aid and assist all poor, distressed … knowing them to be such, as far as their necessities may require, and my ability permit, without material injury to myself and family.”