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  • Writer's pictureReflective Resources

P is for Pay It Forward

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.” Iris Murdoch

Pay It Forward Day is a worldwide celebration of kindness that takes place every year on April 28th. It exists to encourage people to actively look for opportunities to practise kindness and is not associated with any organization or foundation. The notion of Paying It Forward isn’t limited to a specific day, however, to be worthwhile.

The simplest way to define ‘Pay It Forward’ is that when someone does something nice for you and instead of paying that person back directly for their good deed, you do a good deed for someone else instead.

The concept of Pay It Forward is not new; possibly dating back to 317 BC where it was used as a plot for a play by Menander in Athens entitled ‘Dyskolos’ (The Grouch). There are other small documented examples of the Pay It Forward idea throughout history e.g. In Lily Hardy Hammond’s 1916 book ‘In the Garden of Delight’

"I never repaid Great-aunt Letitia's love to her, any more than she repaid her mother's. You don't pay love back; you pay it forward."

and its use by science fiction author Robert Heinlein in his book ‘Between Planets’ (1951) ,

The banker reached into the folds of his gown, pulled out a single credit note. "But eat first—a full belly steadies the judgment. Do me the honour of accepting this as our welcome to the newcomer."

His pride said no; his stomach said YES! Don took it and said, "Uh, thanks! That's awfully kind of you. I'll pay it back, first chance."

"Instead, pay it forward to some other brother who needs it."

but it became widely popular after the movie ‘Pay It Forward’ (2000) starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt which was based on a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde (1999). In the movie, Trevor, who is troubled by his mother's alcoholism and fears about his abusive but absent father, is caught up by an intriguing assignment given to him by his social studies teacher, Mr. Simonet ‘to think of something to change the world and put it into action’. Trevor’s simple idea was that for each good deed that someone receives, they should help three new people in return i.e. a ration of three to one. To make this more meaningful, Trevor further stipulated that the good deeds should ideally accomplish things that the other person cannot accomplish on their own. Trevor's efforts, to bring to fruition this idea, changes not only his life but the lives of an ever-widening circle of strangers.

Because it proves that you don't need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you've got.” Catherine Ryan Hyde

So what are the other benefits of Paying It Forward?

It has been proven that acts of kindness build exponentially in a community because people believe that one good deed deserves another. It is also possible for the original beneficiary to become part of the later chain of kindness i.e. the notion of ‘What goes around comes around’

We've also evolved the ability to simply 'pay it forward': I help you, somebody else will help me. I remember hearing a parable when I was younger, about a father who lifts his young son onto his back to carry him across a flooding river. 'When I am older,' said the boy to his father, 'I will carry you across this river as you now do for me.' 'No, you won't,' said the father stoically. 'When you are older you will have your own concerns. All I expect is that one day you will carry your own son across this river as I no do for you.' Cultivating this attitude is an important part of Humanism--to realize that life without God can be much more than a series of strict tit-for-tat transactions where you pay me and I pay you back. Learning to pay it forward can add a tremendous sense of meaning and dignity to our lives. Simply put, it feels good to give to others, whether we get back or not.” Greg Epstein

Paying It Forward can enhance your home life, your social life as well as your professional life which in turn can inspire others and make the world a better place for everyone. When Paying It Forward becomes part of your thinking and habits, this can not only extend side-wards to friends, relations and peers but also extend to future generations e.g. your children, nephews and nieces, children you teach etc As they see your example, others become inspired to carry the same tradition forward.

It takes each of us to make a difference for all of us.” Jackie Mutcheson

What we say and do matters. All too often, we think too much about our own needs without considering how our actions or words affect others. Paying it forward is about compassion, empathy and generosity and the person paying it forward grows as much as the person receiving the act of kindness.

Paying It Forward can alter the plasticity of the brain. When your neural network changes, this leads to reflexive behavioural changes. Recent studies have shown that generosity and gratitude are symbiotic therefore each and every one of us has the ability to start a neurobiological feedback loop and an upward spiral of well-being through small acts of kindness. Fascinatingly, brain scans can now map the neural mechanisms of gratitude activated by generosity. Knowing this, it is certainly worth considering prioritising creating opportunities to Pay It Forward into our daily routines.

Gratitude is a fundamental thread that holds the tapestry of our social fabric together. Feelings of gratitude nurture our individual mental health and fortify our bonds with other people. The personal and interpersonal benefits of gratitude occur at both a psychological and neurobiological level.”

Christopher Bergland

When you Pay It Forward, your actions usually change someone else’s circumstances for the better giving them a temporary boost or even offering their lives a more permanent improvement.

If you choose to Pay It Forward on a regular basis , you grow creatively because once obvious ways of Paying It Forward have been exhausted it requires careful observation, thought and imagination to think of new ways.

Everyone appreciates being ‘seen’ or needs help and positive attention sometimes, it’s up to us to act when the opportunity presents itself and in so doing, we’re planting the seeds now for a better future tomorrow, for everybody.

I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago when, in the middle of this latest confinement, totally unexpectedly I received a parcel through the post with a simple note attached ‘Something to cheer you up’. It contained a magazine with lots of nice recipes. Yes I could have looked up new ideas on the internet but the person that sent it knew that I was more likely to stop, grab a cuppa and sit and enjoy browsing through it which as well as being stimulating would mean I had some downtime.

Another gift I received a few years back which made an equally big impression was a packet of Wildflower seeds that I received through the post from a friend who knowing my love for flowers and my desire to transform our front field was enough momentum for me to call in neighbours to help level the area and then we bought more seed and the result that Summer was spectacular with people even stopping to photograph it.

In the spirit of Pay It Forward, here is my two-part promise: the first 3 people to leave a comment about their thoughts on this post will receive a token of kindness from me during 2022. When and what it will be is a surprise. NB The second part to this is that, at the same time you leave a comment on this post, you have to post this explanatory Pay It Forward post on to your social media page as well! (This will mean that sometime during the coming year you will also commit to sending a ‘gift’ to 3 people as well and whoever comments after reading the post on your page will also do the same......and so it begins!

Some questions to think about/or discuss below:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Have you ever done anything to “Pay It Forward?”

Has anyone ever done a good deed for you?

How did it made you feel?

Can you think of three people today to whom you could make a difference to their day?

What other acts of kindness can you think of to do at home, amongst friends, at work, to complete strangers?

If you want to explore this subject further, here are a few links to get you started:

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