A woman's act of kindness at McDonald's leads to 167 customers who pay it forward

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/06/23/a-womans-act-of-kindness-at.html


The way things are going, I would be hesitant to break the chain in a situation like that, lest someone take my photo and post it on Twitter with a caption identifying me as the unspeakably horrible person who broke the chain, let us come together and heap shame upon him, etc.


People are always doing these “pay-it-forward” chains, and they’re horrible.

Everyone in the line is merely feeling coerced to “pay-it-forward.” The cashiers make it clear that you’re “the 97th person in line, you don’t want to break the chain, do you?” And it doesn’t even make sense. If everyone is paying roughly the same amount, all it means is that the person at the start paid for the person at the end, who gets a free meal. Everyone else participates and feels good, but mostly just ended up in the same place. And there are exactly the same number of people are paying more than they wanted to as there are “feel-good-pay-it-forwarders” are who are actually paying less.

“Pay-it-forward” is a fine concept, but it’s not supposed to mean " you are really expected to pay it forward right now, to that person right there."


Its coercive virtue signalling.
Kinda reminds me of the way the “Jimmy Fund” used to (maybe still does) work the patrons in movie theaters around boston. Before the movie started they would walk up and down the rows and solicit donations.

That kind of coercion of a captive audience really rubs me the wrong way. It was one of the reasons I stopped going to the movies. If this happened to me in a line somewhere it would give me that cold sinking feeling in my gut and I’d probably just completely abort any purchase whatsoever.


Not if they happen organically, like this one seems to have.



i don’t feel they are horrible at all – so what if people feel compelled to keep it going? for that brief instance when you’re informed that the person ahead of you paid for your meal, it makes you feel good. i am not cynical about these at all. i like any opportunity humanity has to work the generosity muscle.


It’s important to understand that helping people is not about helping people - it’s about feeling good about yourself. Louis C. K. had a great bit about how he was on a plane one time and saw a soldier and thought, “I should give up my first class seat for him”. And he felt good about himself for having that impulse. But he didn’t bother to give up his seat.

So what if this is a terribly inefficient use of your charity funds? - most effectively spent to improve lives in the 3rd world, probably. So what if the net result is a bunch of wasted time and a free lunch of near-toxic hydrogenated trash-food for the most selfish person in line? All of those people in that line felt great about themselves, probably for several days.


Yes, the food at McD’s is crap, and yes; in the overall scheme of things, the kindness described in this story isn’t making a huge positive impact on the world in a way that really matters on more than a superficial level… BUT sometimes it’s important to have some affirmation that not everyone on the planet is a self-absorbed jerk with no consideration for anyone other than themselves.

In a world where we are constantly being bombarded with a proliferation of negative examples of just how shitty we can be as a species, it’s not only nice to be reminded that positive aspects of humanity still exist, it’s necessary in order to maintain one’s tenuous grip on some sanity.


Exactly this. Sure this is stupid, but if it makes people think they care about others, even for a few minutes, maybe that spills over and that person starts to think of herself as someone who cares about others all the time. And maybe she even will, at least a little bit.

Economic ponzi scheme. Altruistic kick-starter.


Zizek also has ruminated on this issue. Even though he tries to get to the capitalist roots of modern charitable giving (at least through large scale bureaucratic organizations or for profit corporations more generally), and how it’s meant to make us feel good, he doesn’t say we shouldn’t act kindly to others on an individual basis. While maybe this is a small thing, that doesn’t mean that it can’t have a positive impact. No one is saying that we should only do these sorts of acts of kindness, but that it can be a part of our daily lives.

Basically, what you’re saying here is that we should ignore the 3rd world conditions of people directly within our community, which I disagree with.


No kidding. Sometimes I pull through McDonalds just to get a $1 large iced tea. If the clerk at the window told me that the previous customer paid for it, I would be bummed to then be expected to pay $25 for the burgers, fries and shakes for the family in the minivan behind me. But I don’t want to be shamed all over the internet either.


This makes no sense to me. As someone above said, all that happened is a few people in the line bought food for a few other people later in the line, depending on the totals of the amount ordered. The 167 people number doesn’t really mean anything at all.

What DOES make sense to me is coffee shops or other places I’ve seen where people can pay more than what their purchase costs, and this goes up on the wall for people to use later as they see fit. (Presumably for people who would appreciate the money saved over people for whom it wouldn’t make a big difference.)

If I’m reading it right, a “chain” of immediate paying it forward is nearly meaningless.

ETA: I don’t want to give the impression that I think the original person paying for the next person’s order is a bad thing. Not at all. It’s a nice gesture sometimes. Just, I can’t imagine that this happened 167 times without the cashier informing people of that fact and subtly pressuring them keep it going. If all they mentioned was that the person in front of them had paid for their meal and THEN it happened 167 times, well then, yeah, that’s amazing!


Is that what I’m saying? I’m just saying that if you have $20 to give charitably, and you want to improve the most lives the most, then you should spend it where it will improve the most lives the most. If your goal is to feel good about yourself, then you should give the money appropriately for that, which is probably in your local community.

I think the woman at the head of the chain should have said “I want to pay for the guy behind me, but don’t tell him to pay for the guy behind him, because I don’t want to pressure people.”

However – now that this is has been publicized, the corporate types are probably telling their salespeople to try to keep the chain going, just for positive publicity. And that’s bad. IMO.


I’m reminded that the positive aspects of humanity exist every time I go outside and am not immediately set upon by a gang of thugs. Sure the news bombards us with acts of human depravity and callousness … but the fact that I live peacefully in a city of 2 million other primates provides all the proof I need that we are pretty well behaved towards one another.


Groovy; some people need more direct reminders.


Great. This is too good to be true. End times are nigh. /s

I do love when these things happen.

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what would be even cooler, is if you could choose to pay for an extra meal at any fast food place, and have a little light up number on the outside of the building letting anyone know that such and such a place currently has X number of meals that can be had for free by those in need.

i don’t see that happening because businesses try and discourage homeless from even being near them…smdh.


I appreciate the sentiment and the need to feel like humanity is not perpetually garbage, but immediately I am struck with the anxiety I would feel as customer #168 due to the peer pressure, and the awareness that I’m only helping the next customer by the difference between their order total minus the customer’s behind them (so potentially I’m obligating them to pay more than they planned or can right then and there).

I think there’s a better way though! Instead of buying the next customers meal, why not put it into a community pool that automatically pays for everyone behind you until it runs out? Each person gets discounted whatever is in the pool, pays whatever is left, and then puts however much they want back into it. You can opt out by putting as much in as you took out, and there is still a fun metric to feel good about. I believe there was a sandwich shop featured on BB that did that and it worked magnificently.

I did not expect this to be the post I’d stop lurking for, but here we are.

ETA: I spent literally half an hour recreating a thought that you laid out exactly in your second paragraph. I need sleep.