Power of one human

As a UBC alum, it is always with great interest when I see an article about a UBC student, staff, faculty or alum.

Recently there was this article appearing in the National Post about a wave of people in various cities buying 500 coffees at a Tim Horton’s (you can read the article by clicking here).

In the article, a UBC professor comments about the wave of donation passing through the country.

I disagree with the faculty member and find his comment ironic.

First, the irony. The very students this professor teaches rely on the kindness of donations. Many student need financial support that comes UBC’s financial award supporters. To say every student who receives a financial award has the same need, is naive. Some need it more than others. UBC has a robust system to try to ensure monies most needed are awarded appropriately – but no system is perfect.

The second part, where I disagree with the professor is about random acts of kindness. The point of these acts is to be random. Don’t take credit, don’t want credit. Just show up and do the deed and slip back into the shadows.

The professor points out that people planning to spend $2 at Tim Horton’s likely don’t need the $2 covered by someone’s donation. This is true. Many, definitely not all, likely do not need their $2 covered.

Where I disagree, is there is a much bigger picture.

Firstly, in a news cycle that spends more time covering deaths in Iraq, the news has suddenly changed to how this act of giving $500 to Tim Horton’s is spreading across the nation. It is much more positive. People are being inspired to share this good deed instead of learning to hate people in Iraq they have never met, spoken to, or know.

The second point I think is missed is how the little builds the big. Yes, a guy driving a new BMW gets his $2 coffee paid for by a masked donor. What if this driver is on his way to a meeting at UBC about donating money towards a new scholarship? When he leaves his office he is leaning towards not giving the donation to UBC. Suddenly this free coffee jolts him into a positive frame-of-mind. He changes his mind between the end of the Tim Horton’s Drive Thru and the parking lot at UBC.

Another aspect that is missed is the idea made famous by the Hollywood movie, Pay it Forward. When you get something small done for you by a stranger, you in turn do something nice for someone else. Hold the door open, and this person who is late for work on the receiving end may smile at a customer. This customer may in turn pay for the coffee of the person behind them at the Drive Thru.

Like in science, rarely are there massive break through where a scientists has nothing and suddenly solves AIDS the next day. This discovery is built upon hundreds of years of accomplishments and small wins. Someone had to invent electricity so he could use his machines. Someone had to develop microscopes so be could look at living cells. The world in interconnected.

I doubt the first individual to donate the $500 of free coffees went from zero to hero in an instant. Perhaps someone paid for his coffee the day before. Perhaps a Tim Horton’s worker smiled at him the day before and the power of this smile carried to the next day. Perhaps someone held the door open for him. Something likely triggered the final decision. What was his/her inspiration?

It’s a little like life. The little things add up to the big.

Like the CN Tower. It didn’t just appear on the Toronto skyline as the largest free standing tower. The engineers and designers relied on the millions of buildings that had been built before this project to understand all the minute details and important factors. These engineers would never have been able to build the CN if this was the first building ever on Earth. They needed small chunks of knowledge passed down from one generation of engineers to the next, and between one colleague to another.

Don’t be surprised when you read about someone giving $500 to buy 250 people their morning coffee. Think – you may have held the door open for him that morning. The power of human behavior. The power of thinking beyond what the experts tell you.


I welcome and strive to get your feedback and own thoughts. Feel free to comment below or connect with me via social media.

Through this blog (Adam Goodwin’s Blog 13), I am trying to help connect individuals and organizations with content, ideas, and services that can enable themselves to change the world. Join me today to continue to better the world and this generation.

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