The Golden Lemonade Rule

I keep spare change in a small compartment in my car. It is reserved for the express purpose of tipping the baristas at the drive-thru coffeehouse and for buying lemonade. Without exception, when I spot a child-run lemonade stand (or whenever a kid has drawn up a poster advertising items for sale) I stop and I buy. I don’t always want lemonade.  In truth, I rarely do. Often my new purchase is later pitched into the trash.  It doesn’t matter. My desire for the product plays no part in my decision to stop and purchase it.  For I am obliged to a higher calling, The Golden Lemonade Rule.

The Golden Lemonade Rule is this: Do unto the child at that lemonade stand as you would have had every car that passed you by while you were the child with high hopes and over-watered kool-aid do unto you.  In other words, stop and buy the danged lemonade.  And do it with a smile and a word of praise to the young entrepreneurs.  It’s an exercise in empathy. One that takes such little effort on our part but makes such a positive impact in the life of that child.

Last week some neighborhood children hosted a bake sale to benefit our city’s homeless. They had labored over their wares and their set up. Their pride for the endeavor shone in their twinkling eyes. I stopped, of course, to purchase a treat for myself and a few extras to share with my children. In the short time I was at their table selecting from all the goodies they had laid out, a few other cars drove by. Each time the children would see a car approaching they would flag their signs and break into a little ditty they had written and rehearsed for the occasion. It was precious to watch. What wasn’t precious to observe was when the drivers of these other cars would wave at the children but drive on by, or worse, pretend not to notice them at all. I would watch their sweet faces fall with each passing car. All that enthusiasm dashed by someone who, with minimal effort, could have made those children quite literally jump for joy.

Maybe you’ve been the driver of one of those cars.  Maybe you’ve waved at those kids but felt no compulsion to stop at their sale.  Certainly it wasn’t your intention to dash their spirits, you just had other things on your mind.  That’s reasonable. But I’d like to challenge you to step outside of yourself for a moment, for this is where the exercise in empathy comes into play. Empathy is nothing more than trying to view a given situation from another party’s perspective.  In this instance, I would ask you to take a brief moment to think back to when you were a child. Think about when you hosted a lemonade stand or a bake sale, or went door to door to solicit for school or sports fundraisers, or any number of childhood endeavors where you relied on the generosity of adults. Think about how disheartening it was to be told “No” time and again, and likewise, how overjoyed you were when someone made a purchase or a pledge.  

But what if empathy just doesn’t come naturally to you? Maybe you never hosted a lemonade stand or the like. Maybe you were never in a position to rely on the generosity of adults. Maybe you never were a child at all; maybe you were born a high-strung forty-year-old with a mortgage, a dead-end job, and no soul…although that’s highly unlikely.  Or maybe, just maybe, somewhere between birth and present day you lost that childhood wonder, that lust for life that keeps us young at heart. No matter if you’re an old curmudgeon or just oblivious, there is virtually no excuse for not adhering to The Golden Lemonade Rule.

You don’t have proper change?  Give the kid a twenty and blow their impressionable little mind!  A few bucks on an unplanned expense isn’t going to be the tipping point that lands you in the poor house.  You’re running late to work?  The additional 60 seconds that it takes to hand over your change and grab a cup of lemonade isn’t going to lose you your job. You’re rushing someone to the hospital because they’ve severed a limb or are actively birthing a baby?  Okay, you get a free pass. But hit the lemonade stand on the way home!

For the price of a couple quarters and only a few of the 86,4oo seconds out of your day, you can prolong a child’s innocence and allow them to believe in the goodness of humanity for a little while longer. And, as it is with The Golden Rule, The Golden Lemonade Rule does not solely benefit the receiver, but the giver also gains in equal measure. For each time we exercise our heart, it grows stronger.  And as our heart grows stronger, our perception of the world is illuminated.

So the next time you see a child standing by the roadside, waving and smiling, the ice in their lemonade pitcher long ago melted from hours sitting out in the warm summer sunshine, Stop.  Buy.  Make the world a better place.  The kind of place you yourself would like to live in.  The kind of place where life doesn’t just hand kids lemons, but it buys the  lemonade they make from them.