A few months back, the light-hearted do-gooders crowd cheered at the fact that nearly 400 Starbucks customers “Paid it Forward” by purchasing the next guests’ drinks. But the evil bastard that put an end to the chain is what stays in everyone’s mind. How dare he break that streak!
When I heard about this, I remember thinking I might have done the same thing. Or at least, considered it (in the moment, it’s always difficult to be that person). I don’t think I’m an asshole, and I don’t think he is, either.
Here’s the thing: when you do a good deed out of the kindness of your heart, you’re stepping out of your daily routine to contribute to the greater good. But when it becomes mandatory, it’s no longer a good deed. By doing what is expected and required of you (without a personal choice or commitment), you’re not being a good person. You’re just being not an asshole.
Charity, or it’s non-christian derived counterparts (tzedakah, Dāna, what have ya) has its roots in religious obligation. Obligation to take care of others less fortunate, which is a pretty decent concept to have built into faiths. But doing good things, the acts that give us the feels all over, the contributions that really, truly help others, is never an obligation (and shouldn’t be).
Doing true good comes from the heart. It comes from seeing something that affects you emotionally (homelessness, starving children, abused animals, you name it) and doing something about it.
Think of the ways you can contribute. It’s not always money. Do you build websites? Do you make awesome bulk meals? Can you teach english as a second language or educate for literacy? Do you have a hole in your heart that a senior dog could fill (they are the hardest to adopt out)? Do you take decent photos and know of an organization that doesn’t have the budget for them? Or do you have time: the most valuable resource a non-profit could use?
My challenge to you is to go out there and do good things, not because you’re supposed to, but because you want to. And if you don’t want to, don’t. If things are hard for you right now, you sit tight and maybe someone will do something good for you.
I also don’t consider paying for wealthy white people’s drinks at a Starbucks in a good neighborhood an act of kindness, but that’s a story for a different post. Peter, I’m with ya, buddy.