Psychology students pay it forward

Angela Duncan is a lecturer in the psychology department.

Paying it Forward the WU Psychology Way

I believe it is safe to assume that many of us have wondered whether we ever have an impact on other peoples’ lives. We may also ponder whether altruism still exists, especially when we are bombarded daily by news emphasizing what is wrong with the world. What about the good things happening around us? I was fortunate to be a recipient of this goodness this semester when a stranger unexpectedly paid for my order in a Caribou coffee drive through. I found myself both overwhelmed by the generosity of this unknown person and surprised by the awkwardness of not handing payment to the barista. But, then I did what countless other customers do at that location every week.

I gave the barista my credit card, and told him to apply it to the order of the stranger behind me. Driving to WU that day, the euphoria remained and I knew that I had to share this experience with my students. So I did. The next class period, one student told me how she initiated a “pay it forward” and what happened next is the most salient part of this story. She received a note on her car from a most thankful stranger saying that he had contemplated suicide that day, but because of her act of kindness he changed his mind!

So, do we impact other peoples’ lives? Yes! Does altruism still exist? Yes! But, it occurred to me that I experienced positive feelings from “paying it forward”, telling my students about the encounter, and hearing about the effect it had on the individual contemplating suicide. Some might argue that the positive feelings I gained from the experience would negate altruism. But, as a student in my PY 100 class insightfully indicated, “a good feeling can be a reward for altruism; however, a lot of times it is the unexpected consequence so altruism is still possible” (thanks C.A for this reminder!).

Do we impact our students? Yes! Thank you to all my students for making my first semester at Washburn memorable and rewarding. Your questions, comments, and insights are much appreciated! I look forward to crossing paths again in the future. Perhaps, you will be that “stranger” in the drive-through?