Friday, August 10, 2007

"Pay it Forward"

I just read some guy's blog post about Pay It Forward. This concept that if instead of collecting favors and demanding repayment, you essentially pass the favor onto someone else by saying that your friends should pay someone else back in your stead.

Lovely concept. We all just keep helping each other out, with "exponential" growth. Then all of a sudden we live in a perfect world where everyone is happy and patting each other on the back.

I'm sorry but I can't just blindly throw myself behind this. Sure, it'd be great if everyone was so happy all the time and there were no problems. Or would it?

Think about it. What parts of your day do you remember? Is it that happy little morning greeting you have with coworkers? No. People remember conflict a lot more than then remember pretty much anything else.

At one point a few weeks back I wanted to buy this videogame. I got to the store right as it was closing and ran in when someone was coming out because the in door was locked. After hunting around the store for a few minutes I came across the game and headed for the check out. The line for the checkout was setup amusement park style with lots of back and forth rows. This lady started walking back and forth through them with her mom while I just ducked under them and headed to the register.

This, of course, inspired a protest in this lady's mother. I had cheated her and her daughter by line jumping and heading to the register before them. My thinking was, if they are dumb enough to spend a whole lot of wasted time and effort walking through an unnecessary line, then they were probably going to spend a lot of time at the register and I would have to wait to purchase my item.

So it was decision time. Do I apologize and give up my space in line because they had arrived at the line first? Or do I just check out and head on. I opted for the ladder.

Now my point in this story is that I clearly still remember it. I didn't support the "Pay it forward" principle here by letting them go. I also didn't wait an extra 5 minutes in line just to be courteous to people who do stupid things because they feel they are entitled to some kind of "first to the beginning of the line" societal unwritten rule.

So what does this mean? I guess it means that I'm reversing the flow of pay it forward and perpetuating her paying my bad deed forward to someone else.

That's one way of looking at it. Another way is maybe she took out some of her latent hostility on me as she yelled at me for what she thought was an injustice. I'm sure she then told many people this story, as I did. I'm sure she still remembers this occurrence and probably retells it often as an example to justify her theory that "the world is going to hell because the next generation does not have the same principles as mine".

So what is the end result. First, the lady maybe learned that if you do stupid things then you get left behind. Second, she got out some of her hostility. Third, she and I both have a story to give concrete examples of what we believe.

Does this mean that all of a sudden we'll have world peace? No. But humans are designed to compete. It's in our genes, it's what pushes us forward. It is what drives progress. Past generations values and ideas are left behind as the new ones form. Natural selection still exists, although it is buried deeper now.

I'm not saying that if you want to not to support "Pay it forward", but don't be naive. Don't get sucked into some idea that smiling and saying hello to some stranger and then helping them load some groceries in their car is going to then make the world perfect. The world was designed to be perfect and that's how it is. We're living in the utopia, learn to love it for what it is.

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