The Saint of Starbucks



Arthur Rosenfeld

Love this story by Arthur Rosenfeld, which was posted in the Huffington Post in December 2008. Can you imagine the shock of the guy in the car who was leaning on the horn? Ha! Good for him for recognizing he was acting like a jerk and keeping the “pay it backward” chain going.




PAY IT BACKWARDS: AN ACT OF COFFEE KINDNESS

Just before Christmas of 2007, almost exactly a year ago, I steered into a Starbucks drive-thru line for a cup of tea on my way to teach a morning tai chi lesson. There were a few cars in line, and I got in behind them. When my turn came I gave my order at the billboard menu and moved up as far as I could while waiting patiently for the cars in front of me to get through the cashier line. While the South Florida weather would probably have felt tropical to much of the rest of the country, I was a bit chilled and was looking forward to my hot drink.

The fellow in the SUV behind me reached the menu. Dissatisfied with the alignment between his mouth and the microphone, he laid on his horn, leaned out his window, yelled an insult and exhorted me to move up. There was nowhere to go. I was in a line, and mere inches separated my car from the one in front of me. Indignant at rudeness, I felt my temper come up, and because I am a pure and enlightened being who entertains nothing but positive thoughts, I reached for the door handle with the intention of popping out of the car, taking a few steps, reaching into his open window, and sending him to the dentist for a holiday visit.

I’ll show you what happens to rude and impatient people, I thought. I’ll teach you that a martial artist is waiting in every car around you with the express mission of settling the world down into just the fair, quiet, and patient place they think it should be. Running that tape in my head, my ire grew even further. Testosterone and adrenaline flooded my body and in a few seconds I had transformed from the peaceful, content, slightly thirsty writer/teacher to a raving lunatic. My heartbeat was up, my hands were clammy, my muscles were tense, and the whole world had constricted down to the tiny business of completing my hostile mission.

Then I glanced in the mirror. The face of the impatient driver behind me was florid and twisted with anger and hate. I refocused my eyes and noticed that my own face didn’t look much different. Whatever plague had taken him had penetrated the steel and glass of my car to infect me too, robbing me of my much-vaunted equilibrium, my peace, my balance, my equanimity–precisely that thing that my beloved tai chi training, and the Chinese philosophy behind it prizes most highly.

I teach my students that it is best not to lose that balance–wuji in Chinese–through meditation, breathing, and tai chi training, but when you do, you can use any of three “doors” to get it back. Door number one is meeting force with force: I could go ahead and start a fight. Door number two is yielding: I could kowtow on the concrete, admit to being an idiot, and beg the other driver’s forgiveness. The best option, however, is door number three. That door is different every time. The trick is to figure out what that is.

The car in front of me moved off and I pulled up to pay. “I’d like to buy the coffee for the guy behind me,” I said.

The barista looked at me in surprise. “But he’s a jerk!”

“Just having a bad day, ” I said. “Happens to the best of us.”

“A random act of kindness, eh?”

I shook my head, thinking how I could explain door number three to her before the guy rammed my bumper with his. “Not really. I’m not doing it for him; I’m doing it for me. I was mad right back at him, but now that I’m doing this I feel much better.”

I had only a $10 bill in my wallet, and I handed it over. She checked her order screen. “He has ordered breakfast for five people. It’s a lot more than ten dollars.”

That gave me pause. I’d already regained my wuji. Did I really need to go through with more? I took out my credit card and handed it over.

She searched my face. “You’re sure?”

“Do it,” I said.

After I’d signed the charge slip, I drove away without a backward glance. I had found my door number three, was finished with the act, and indeed was already forgetting about it. I didn’t want to meet the guy on the road, either to hear thanks or more yelling, so I took a circuitous route to my lesson, avoiding the main highway.

Six hours later, I returned home to find my answering machine full of messages from the Starbucks manager, and from a reporter for NBC news. They had tracked me down by my credit card information. Apparently the guy behind me had continued my act of giving and the person behind him had done the same, and on and on. No doubt encouraged by the store manager, the chain was intact well into the afternoon. NBC covered the story (see above video).

The news spread around the world. Within 24 hours I had received calls and e-mails from as far away as Australia. The key point, of course, is that I had performed a random act of consciousness rather than a random act of kindness. I’d nearly lost my cool, had retrieved it, and done something good for myself and someone else in the process.

In a sense, you can think of this as self-centered, but in a good way. Keeping your cool, maintaining your wuji is just like putting your own oxygen mask on in a damaged airplane before helping those around you. If you pass out, you can’t help anyone. If you lose your temper, you are of no good to the world. Cool, calm and collected you are ready and willing to participate in the world.

Violent crimes and burglaries are up this holiday season. The financial crisis is creating anxiety, depression, desperation and anger. Spread the word about wuji. Do your best to control your own feelings before acting rashly. Think twice before doing or saying something you’ll regret. Random acts of consciousness are perhaps even more contagious than random acts of kindness. Raise your level of view, dig deep for perspective, and help make this a more peaceful holiday season for everyone.





Click here to view all my posts on the transcendent power of kindness.






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14 Responses to “The Saint of Starbucks”

  1. ArrVee Says:

    one of the principles of most martial arts is to use the opponent’s force and momentum to send him off-balance, while maintaining yours. And that is what kindness does.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I like it! An excellent point, ArrVee! It’s a good explanation of what happened here,

  3. mel Says:

    Phil,

    I enjoyed reading this. The truth is, I’m short-tempered person. I easily get angry over small things. Oftentimes, I get angry to channel out feelings of self pity and/or helplessness. But thanks to you and to your advices and encouragements, I’m gradually changing to a “less hyperactive and overreactive” person when faced with anger-inducing situations.
    I really think that taichi is good for maintaining calmness because my brother is into it. He’s the one who is usually calm in confronting chaotic and/or dangerous encounters.

    Thanks,

    Mel

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I’m so glad to hear you’re becoming less overreactive, Mel. Yes, tai chi can certainly help in that regard. It’s good to look around us and see what works for others; it might not work for us but just making the effort is a step in the right direction.

  5. justcharrie Says:

    Very nice story. Thanks for sharing Phil. Ahhh, that man’s deed is really commendable, it’s hard to keep a temper in that kind of situation but he just didn’t get through but rather made a worthy act out of it. Impressive.

  6. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You bet, justcharrie. There’s no reason to take such circumstances personally. The other driver doesn’t know you personally so why take it that way?

  7. mzzlee Says:

    a wonderful story, and a wonderful reminder for me. thank you!…

  8. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’re very welcome, mzzlee!

  9. Rachel Says:

    That gave me chills! I learned something very important here.

  10. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Glad you got so much out of it, Rachel!

  11. Velma Says:

    Do you think we could bottle this and sell it, especially to those who seem to lash out at everything? Love the article, Phil. Thanks so much.

  12. Phil Bolsta Says:

    No need to bottle it, Velma. Everyone already has it inside of them. The key is uncorking it!

  13. Rachel Says:

    I was holding your book when I went to the Buddhist Center the other day so I told the reverends about your book and this particular story on your blog. I’m printing it up now to take in to study group tonight. =)

  14. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Awesome! Thanks, Rachel!

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