Some months ago I flew from New York to Detroit. The standard airline prices were exorbitant so I booked a flight on Spirit Airlines, a low-cost, no frills carrier. And I mean no frills at all. I soon learned that my ticket bought me only two things: a seat on the plane and use of the bathroom (or, as we say in airplane speak, lavatories). Everything else, from a carry-on to a drink, came at a hefty price (in relative terms). Frustrated by just how tight this airline operated (after all, it's not like I paid five cents for my ticket), I offered a quip to one of the flight attendants. "I am wondering," I said, "if you're going to charge me for breathing on this flight." No worries, she told me. Air was still free.
I have thought often about that exchange. Our society has managed to monetize just about everything, from drinking water to public parks. Want a snack on an airplane? That'll be $3. Need an Internet connection to get work done? It'll cost $10. And it's not only the airlines. Even free downloads aren't free. Anytime that a software company offers you a new app at no cost there is something sought in exchange: your personal information, data about your shopping preferences, etc.
The good news is that there are some things that are and will always be free, at least for the giver. We can say and do things that cost us nothing while offering something meaningful to others. A smile, a good word of appreciation, an act of simple kindness or respect, like helping an older person cross the street or making eye contact when people speak to us. Simple things that won't cost you a penny
Think for a moment about tomorrow morning. You'll be walking down the street as people are coming the other way. The sidewalk is narrow and you will pass them at a distance of a few feet. Whether they know you or not, a quick smile and warm "good morning" can add a charge to their day and energize you at the same time.
Even if you don't want to extend yourself to that degree, there are still many ways to demonstrate care and consideration for others. Something as simple as shoveling your walk well and throwing down some salt on a snow day. Or turning on your blinker before turning to make things easier and safer for others on the road.
Or what about the next time that you go shopping or visit a library and decide that you really don't want to buy that item or check out that book? Think about how much you help someone out when they don't have to pick up an item that was randomly misplaced because you took the time to return it to the shelf where you got it.
And how many of us have had the experience of returning to our cars after shopping only to find a cart left randomly in the lot or, even worse, up against our vehicle, because the last shopper chose not to take the half minute to do the right thing and return it?
It may be true that "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch." Or even free water. But there are some things that still are free and always will be. Our society may teach us to relentlessly pursue the almighty dollar and that even our time must be viewed and used as a commodity. But we should never forget that the most enduring components of our lives - such as our character, values, acts of kindness and even simple consideration -- will never cost us a penny.