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This past July in Massachusetts, Eileen Taylor, a customer in a Heavenly Doughnuts drive-thru, paid not only for her own doughnuts, but for the order of the following car. This simple act resulted in a chain of 55 customers who paid for the next customer in line. Not to be outdone by their American cousins, a chain of 228 customers at a Tim Horton's in Winnipeg did the same thing. And now 1,468 patrons (and counting) at a Starbucks in Connecticut have paid for the order of the car behind them since late last year. Adding to the intrigue of these events, an anonymous patron signing his credit card "@TipsForJesus" has been dropping $1,000-$5,000 tips at restaurants and bars across the country. Have North Americans developed a crush on humanity, or are we just happy to be out of the recession?

These unusual events lead to some intriguing questions: Why do we give to others? Why do we choose not to? New research seeking answers to these questions has important implications for Christians. For example, not all of our giving is altruistic.

Psychologists, for instance, have conjectured that tipping behavior can be explained by equity theory. According to equity theory, people are internally programmed to experience anxiety when interpersonal exchange with others is inequitable. So unless he spills the soup in our lap, we tip the waiter because inequity in the exchange would otherwise cause us anxiety. We are willing to pay to reduce anxiety, so we do.

But tipping doesn't exist in every society. Sociologists thus emphasize the social pressures we face to conform to their community's norms. If everyone else tips or pays for the next customer in line, I ought to do the same, or I risk feeling isolated from ...

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February 2014

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