Monday, January 3, 2011

Random Acts Of Kindness - My Starbucks Experiment

Today, while I waited for my parents at Starbucks, I found $10 on the floor. I know, right? Woot. I remember finding $5 on the floor of Stauffer Library a few weeks ago and happily skipped to Starbucks to buy myself a London Fog for free. Free! Oh, oh, happy day.

But as I eagerly picked up the $10 lying by the selection of Starbucks mugs today, I came up with an idea. Walking up to the barista, I placed my usual order, paid for it, and picked up my drink. However, after I received my drink, I went back to the barista, handed her the $10 I found on the floor, and asked her to use the money to pay for the drinks of the next few people who ordered. It doesn't hurt to give a little, right?

So I settled down on a nearby couch, cracked open the book in my purse, and discreetly watched the counter (from the corner of my eye) for the results of my request.

First, an older woman walked up to the barista, placed her order for a tall Hot Chocolate. The barista smiled as the woman stood with her wallet open expectantly. "Your drink is already paid for, ma'am," Barista explained. The older woman eyed her suspiciously, "What are you talking about? Please let me pay for my drink, I'm in a hurry." "Ma'am, your drink is already paid for," Barista repeated, pointing at me. The older woman glanced at me, tilted her head in disbelief, and asked what I wanted from her.

No, you aren't on Candid Camera. Take your free drink, and go!

A second customer arrived and placed his order for a grande Caramel Macchiato. And again, this older gentleman stood with his wallet open expectantly. "Your drink is already paid for, sir," Barista explained. The older man blinked, shook his head and asked, "I'm sorry? What did you say?" "Your drink is already paid for, sir," Barista repeated, pointing at me. The older man shook his head, glanced at me like I had a few screws loose, and thanked me hesitantly.

No, I don't want your money. Take your free drink, and go!

I remember doing something similar a couple of years ago with the young adult group at church. In small groups, we were handed $50 to go around Mississauga for a couple of hours doing random acts of kindness in our community. No strings attached. However, this was more difficult than it sounds. For example, approaching people at our local Metro, it took several tries until we found someone who was willing to let us pay for their groceries. You'd think people would be willing to have their groceries paid for. But, alas, it wasn't that easy. What's the catch? What do we have to give you? Is this a scam? Why are you doing this? Nothing's ever free these days, why are you doing this? These were the questions we were constantly asked.

In almost all the situations I encountered, there were looks of suspicion, disbelief, and eventually, very hesitant acceptance that someone would be doing something for someone else for free. No strings attached. Especially if there's money involved. Is random kindness such a rare commodity these days? Why do we hesitate to accept blessings, even when they're blatantly presented to us?

No, this isn't a scam. Please take this random gift from a stranger, given straight from the heart. Take your blessing and go!

It makes me sad to think of people who have their guard up when it comes to these situations. We live in a world where we rarely get anything for free. We always have to work for it, to give something up in order to obtain something else.

And so, if there's anything I learned from all my encounters above, in a world so wrought suspicion and, ultimately, greed, kindness is a big deal. Especially from a stranger. However, while we may encounter suspicion and disbelief, it's still greatly appreciated. So let's go beyond usual expectations and exercise compassion, kindness, and tolerance more often, yea?

P.S. While I was writing this blog post, I was reminded of this Friends episode. Oh, how I loved Friends!

"How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life, you will have been all of these."
- George Washington Carver

"When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people."
- Abraham Joshua Heschel

"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
- Leo Buscaglia


  1. You're too kind! It's the (very strong) power of reciprocity, which is causing confusion. Normally, when we receive, we like to give back. Many charitable organizations looking for donations will often hand out free things in hopes of triggering reciprocity. Since you did something out of the norm, people were truly baffled! They probably felt that they had to give back. By not taking their money, you might actually be promoting positive behaviour outside of that Starbucks because they would still feel a need to reciprocate! Way to go Barbara!

  2. Dear Mang, you are very sweet! Although both customers did look at me like they thought I was crazy, haha. Oh well, at least something out of the ordinary happened to them yesterday? Hope your Christmas break has gone well and that work isn't stressing you out too much! :)