To pay it forward means to respond to an individual’s kindness toward you by being kind to someone other than the person who extended the original good deed and to do so without asking for or expecting anything in return.
The concept of paying it forward is not anything new; in fact, it may be as old as ancient Greece, as it was the theme in a play called Dyskolos by Menander, back when togas were all the rage.
Fast forward a few millennia and consider a more modern approach. Perhaps you are familiar with the book by Catherine Ryan Hyde (Pay It Forward) or the movie by the same name, starring Haley Joel Osment, Helen Hunt, and Kevin Spacey. I have neither read the book nor seen the movie, but they are two examples of the concept minus the togas.
Did you know there is a Pay It Forward Day as well as a Pay It Forward Foundation? It certainly was news to me, so I looked it up on the Internet. If you are interested, feel free to check them out. The next Pay It Forward Day is April 30, 2015, and the Pay It Forward Foundation is a 503 c(3) nonprofit organization that helps people and communities around the world keep the movement alive.
Even though I expect nothing in return, I must confess I get a warm feeling of satisfaction, joy, or contentment whenever I pay it forward. Call it good karma. My own personal thrill seeking high.
Witnessing or reading about pay it forward situations also are rewarding for me because it helps me stay focused more on the positive than the negative in the world. One incident I will never forget happened several years ago when I was living in Tucson.
Paying it forward times two
The city is a mecca for the homeless because of its mild winters. I personally knew several homeless men who sold newspapers on the corners (back when this activity was allowed there) and I occasionally brought them food. One man, Jay, had a dog named Pixel, and the two of them were inseparable.
I saw Jay and Pixel sitting in front of a grocery store one day shortly before Christmas and I stopped to talk to them. Jay said a newspaper customer had given him a little Christmas bonus and that he wanted to buy something at the drug store next to the grocery. Would I watch his dog for him while he went inside?
I readily agreed, and about 10 minutes later I saw him come out of the store. He stopped in front of the Salvation Army bell ringer and dropped money into the bucket. Then he handed me a small bag and said, “Merry Christmas. Wait until Christmas to open it.”
Jay was a Vietnam vet who had been homeless for more than 20 years when I met him. He lived in a tent next to a dry river bed. He always made sure his dog was well fed and safe. And when someone gave him a gift, he paid it forward—twice–expecting nothing in return.
Acts of kindness
About a month ago I was checking out at the grocery store when a store employee walked up to me, tapped me on the shoulder, and handed me a vase brimming with a dozen red roses. The man said, “Compliments of the store manager,” and walked away.
I was so surprised it was several seconds before I could eek out a “thank you.” The cashier remarked that I looked like I was in shock.
After I left the store, roses in one hand and groceries in the other, I drove a short distance to my next destination, which was the thrift store where I volunteer. The store benefits a cause near and dear to my heart—cats and dogs in need.
I put the vase of flowers on the front sales counter, snapped a picture of them using my phone, and then went behind the counter to start the day. The first customer who came into the store asked if the flowers were for sale, and I said yes. I named a price, she paid it, and another pay it forward event was complete.
I can’t say how the man in the grocery store felt when he handed me the flowers, but I was immensely pleased when I sold them, knowing that the money would go toward helping the animals.
If someone allows you to go ahead of them in the grocery store checkout line, do it for someone else the next time the opportunity arises. Pay for a stranger’s cup of coffee. Hand a bunch of flowers to the next person you meet on the street. The Pay It Forward Foundation has cards people can hand to someone after they have done an act of kindness. The card asks the recipient to pass it along with a good deed to someone else in need.
Mahatma Gandhi reminded us to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” You can be part of that change every time you pay it forward.