Now, I gave that notion of kindness some thought. I wondered if people, by and large, have the kindness gene at the ready this time of year, though it might lay dormant most of the time. Remember how the movie Pay It Forward was all about that sort of thing - do something nice for the next person? The idea was that it was supposed to activate and inspire kindness, then go on ad infinitum and make the world a better place. What a glorious thought - especially at Christmas time. However, reality is so much different. There are people like the examples in Scott's blog post who helped his elderly parents, and like Scott's Starbucks Surprise, but the other 99% are not so giving. If you just look around and watch people, the majority do not behave in a way that resembles or inspires kindness. Watch how they drive, how they move around stores, how they treat each other - hell, watch the news! It's a nice thought to believe that little acts of kindness will inspire the same in others, but that takes for granted that people are like you - that they feel kindness is rewarding in any sense. Most behave more in a every-man-for-himself way, or even worse they behave in a I-just-got-one-over-on-you way.
Just the other day, I was standing in a Starbucks line and someone decided to pay for the person behind him. "Oh this is interesting," I thought. "This will be science in action! Hypothesis: 'pay it forward' scenario at Starbucks will last no longer than 3 people (I was 5th in line)." So, first person to receive the gift was pleasantly surprised (apparently no one was paying attention to the situation - I'm sure she was staring at her cellphone rather than take in the surroundings), and gleefully told the girl behind her that she was buying her coffee because one was just bought for her. The recipient said a cool thank you (not even a smile!) and the line of giving ended right there. It did not even last 3 people down the line.
By the time it was my turn, the people who were behind me were fed up with waiting so they ditched out (I can't blame them - do you really need 6 frapp-a-fucking-ccinos when a line of people waits behind you?). I thought about whether it mattered if I could see the face of the person for whom I would buy the surprise coffee. I mean, if I knew someone was behind me, and I could see their eyes light up, would that make a difference? Further, would it matter if the person appeared to be a rich business man or a hungry student - one without need vs. one with need? It didn't matter. It didn't matter because I did not, in fact, buy a surprise coffee.
If I was the recipient of the gift, I would definitely pay it forward, but when the playing field is equal, I stick to my own thing. Therefore, I realize that I am neither extraordinarily selfish (like the recipient who didn't continue the game), nor am I particularly giving (I didn't opt to re-start the game of my own accord). I'd like to think that if it were something less trivial than coffee, that I would be right there to give what I had and help where I could, but honestly, I haven't exactly been putting in time at a Soup Kitchen or anything. Nope, I am very aware of where I am on the spectrum between Scrooge McDuck pre-Xmas spirits and post-Xmas spirits.
Here's the sad thing, though: I'm not sure if Pay It Forward, Drive-Thru Kindness is worth much. If the whole game only lasts 2 people, does that drop in the bucket ultimately make any difference to an angry, selfish, war-torn, police-battered, race-card playing world? Do only the Grand Gestures make a dent in our consciousness? I honestly don't know. It's rather difficult to tell. For, as Thomas Hobbes wrote in Leviathan: "And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." That was as true in the 17th century as it is today. We have not evolved into Nietzsche's Ubermensch.
But, it's Christmastime, so I do not want to leave this post on a sour note. Scott Abel wondered at synchronicity and was inspired by the gift of religion and kindness that exists DESPITE our humanity. If the mere notion of goodness, kindness, peace, and sympathy exist, let alone the actions taken for the sake of such notions, then the world is not such a bleak place. Ubermensch may not be the overarching behavior and sentiment of the majority of people, but it's a possibility in any given moment. So go ahead, be better than me and buy that faceless stranger a damn Frappuccino.