Almost every day, our local paper prints “thank you” comments from people who have been eating out at local restaurants and had someone anonymously pay for their meal. They are always thankful, often going on to comment on the wonderful generosity of people in this town and sometimes telling how they will take this generosity and “pay it forward.”
This undoubtedly shows a lot of Scrooginess on my part, but I confess that these notes kind of irritate me. It’s not because I’m against generosity or kindness or paying it forward—quite the contrary. It’s because I don’t think paying for someone’s meal in a restaurant for no reason is all that admirable. Really, if people are eating out at a restaurant, they presumably can afford to eat there, so how is paying for their meal such a great gift?
Also…more Scrooginess coming…I think this pay-for-someone’s-meal trend lets people feel generous without actually being generous in a meaningful way. Would they think of walking that same money over to the food bank, where it might go towards feeding some hungry kids? Would they think of slipping it inside an envelope and putting it inside the front door of the single working mom who is clearly struggling? Would they think of giving it to someone who is not at all like themselves and unable to go out to eat in restaurants at all?
But then I have second thoughts. Maybe generosity with no strings attached is something we should never judge. We’ve all heard comments like these: Why should I give money to taking care of injured animals when there are people who need help? Why should I donate to a foundation fighting Ebola in Africa when there are people right in town who can’t afford the cancer treatments they need? Why should I pay to attend that Christmas fund-raiser to benefit the Lymphoma Society when I know the Parkinson’s Foundation needs donations? It goes on and on. If we start thinking this way, it can become an excuse for not giving at all. There is no end to need in the world, both near and far. We all must pick and choose our causes.
And then I have more second thoughts. One of the premises of “Pay it forward,” at least in the movie, is that paying it forward should be something hard for you. Maybe, just maybe, paying for meals in a restaurant really is hard for the people doing it. Maybe paying for another meal is a stretch for them financially. Maybe they aren’t used to giving at all, and giving to those most like themselves is a first step toward learning to give to those who are really in need. Maybe.
So, really, who am I to judge? After all, if it was my meal someone was paying for, I would certainly be happy. Can making someone happy, even for a moment, ever be a bad thing?
I should probably work on curbing my Scrooginess and just be thankful for generosity of any kind. Anywhere. Any time.
And for anyone.