A fun thing happened to me today. I had my first experience with the concept of pay it forward. I went on my usual Starbucks run and as I sat in the drive-thru line there were two cars ahead of me. I had built up enough points on my card so that today’s coffees were going to be free. I planned to treat myself to a great big one, venti size in Starbucks lingo.

When I got to the window, the barista said that the person in the car ahead of me already paid for my order. This was surprising because my order was more than $10. It made me cheerful. But then the barista handed me two of the wrong drinks. They had accidentally made iced versions of what I ordered.

So she said it would be another minute while they made the correct drinks. I saw the woman in the car behind me becoming impatient, inching her car forward because we were taking longer than normal.

The barista ended up giving us new hot coffees, and also gave us the wrong ones because she didn’t know what else to do with them. So I suddenly had four free very large coffees, two hot and two iced venti decaf non-fat flat whites.

I asked if I could pay for the car behind me, and so I did. I don’t know what she ordered but it came to about $8 and some change. I used my rewards for her coffees.

I didn’t have the opportunity to thank the person in the car in front of me, so I repaid the kindness to the car behind me. I hope it made her wait easier and made her smile. I guess in this case I was paying it forward by paying it backward. But you get the point.

As happens in these cases, you don’t do it for the thanks, because you pull away before the person even has a chance to know what is happening. It’s a living breathing good deed that can go on for quite some time until someone decides to stop it.

I wonder if the person in the car behind me continued the kindness and paid for the person behind them.

I did a little research into the concept of “pay it forward” and found that it has been used in dramatic writing since the ancient Greek plays. It was originally a legal term. Instead of repaying a debt to a lender, you went ahead and lent the money to the next person in need. This can continue for quite some time.

In 1784  Benjamin Franklin wrote of the concept in a letter:

I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.

It’s such a nice concept. You have no idea who the people are behind you or what kind of day they are having. It could really brighten up a dismal day for someone.

I encourage you to try this some time. It doesn’t have to be Starbucks. It could be at a toll booth and you pay the toll for the car behind you. Or it could be at a movie theatre and you buy someone’s ticket.

It makes you feel good, and it can really help another human have a great day. It’s also great for your karma points.

Have you ever tried to pay it forward? Or have you ever had someone pay it forward for you? What were the circumstances? I’d love to hear about your experience.