The Ethics Scrooge here.
If you think I’m going to get all misty eyed about the “random acts of kindness” fun and games Florida Starbucks customers have been amusing themselves with lately, you are sadly mistaken.
The happy-talk story of the week—and I admit, the nation needed one—concerned a St. Petersburg, Florida Starbucks where an early morning customer at the drive-through window decided to “pay it forward” and buy coffee for the next person in line.That customer emulated the spirit of the Kevin Spacey weepie, and bought a drink for the next person in line at the drive-through, and so it continued throughout the day, with 378 customers purchasing drinks for the strangers in line behind them, a so-called altruism chain that lasted 11 hours.
I am unimpressed and unmoved. Granted, paying for the over-priced coffee of someone wealthy enough to drink over-priced coffee is better than poking them with a stick, but this is fake charity, and that’s all it is. Let’s see: the average Starbucks order is about four bucks (probably more, but let’s keep it simple.) If those 378 people had contributed that amount to the local Salvation Army, it would have meant about 1500 dollars for people who can’t afford coffee at all. This was pretend generosity, a game for the well-to-do. It also was reminiscent of a reverse Ponzi Scheme, which ends when someone takes their free coffee and runs, as some anonymous spoilsport, much derided in the media, finally did.
The Starbucks ” generosity chain,” which is being emulated elsewhere, made participants feel all warm and fuzzy when they actually sacrificed little, accomplished less, and used the experience to say, “Well, I’ve done my good deed for the day!” It’s not ethics, it’s coercion. It’s not charity either, since the recipients were not in any kind of need. Random acts of kindness are useful if they develop the habit of compassion and kindness toward fellow human beings who need a hand, assistance, or encouragement. This? It’s a stunt. The second St. Petersburg “pay-it-forward” Starbucks chain was stopped by Peter Schorsch, a local blogger who later wrote that he objected to what he perceived as Starbucks shaming its customers. Not surprisingly, Starbucks workers were telling each customer that someone paid for their coffee and asking if they’d like to “pay-it-forward” as well.
For the real beneficiary of these “random acts that are no longer random once you are being directed what to do and informed that you will be harshing everyone’s mellow if you don’t” was, of course, Starbucks, which earned $14.9 billion last year.
And this new “pay-it-forward” gimmick should be a gold min, Mr. Marley! Get your overpriced coffee and your dose of self-esteem, all at one stop!
Graphic: St. John the Baptist School
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