Pay It Forward

What do we do when we can’t pay someone back?  What do we do when the person refuses to accept your repayment, or when they’re a stranger that we have no hope of seeing again?

This stumped me recently.  I have to humph heavy equipment back & forth to my car and I’m often struggling alone.  I work in busy places and plenty of people see me manhandling my boxes, cases and bags, but other than a few strapping young men out for football training who I managed to persuade to help me one night (and no, they didn’t volunteer to help) no one, in 2.5 years, has ever randomly given me a hand.  No one, that is, until an elderly gentlemen helped me on Monday night.  I was so grateful and would love to repay his kindness, but I have no idea who he is.  It was whilst I was mulling this over that I was reminded of the idea of paying it forward.

Paying it forward is not an original concept.  I didn’t have a flash of inspiration and come up with it myself (though I kind of wish I had).  In fact, it’s been around since 317B.C. Or so says Wikipedia…  But original or not, it’s very simple.

The idea is that you:

  1. keep on the lookout for opportunities to pay forward any act of kindness paid to you.
  2.  aim to pay forward three times for every one kindness paid to you – in this way you consciously increase the goodness in the world.
  3. spread the word by suggesting that the recipients of your kindness “pay it forward” to three more people if they can.
Pay it Forward meme

Pay it Forward - spread the word

Take the random act of kindness paid to me by my mystery gentleman, for instance.  As I can’t track him down and offer to carry some cases for him, I now need to be proactive and find someone else to help instead.  I’m not going to lurk at supermarkets, waiting to pounce on random people and offer to carry their shopping for them so that the kindness to them is matched to the kindness paid to me.  I simply have to be on the lookout for opportunities to help others that present themselves.

I’ve seen lots of suggestions online for things that we can do for others.  I was quite tickled by the idea of paying for the car behind you at a toll booth.  I’ve even heard of this being taken further and paying for the next person through the drive through at Burger King, though as they can’t take payment until the food is handed over they had to leave their card and circle back round in the queue to get it, so maybe not such a good idea.  I suppose if you’re in Burger King you could offer to pay whilst you’re stood there.  Similarly, at Christmas time I read about people who would go into places like Walmart (obviously American) and pay off some layaway accounts – an account that lets you put items by until you can afford to pay for them.

But your kindness (thankfully) doesn’t have to be financial.  When it snows I always clear my neighbours’ paths as well as my own, or if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warmer than me you could mow your neighbour’s lawn.  You could make the time to lend a listening ear and a cup of tea to someone in need.  Or even more simply, you could post a blog shout out to someone who would welcome the boost to their traffic.

Such a simple but effective idea.  So this week I am on the lookout for three opportunities to pay forward the help that my mystery gentleman paid to me.  I don’t know what I’ll end up doing but that’s half the fun.  Once I’ve helped three people I’ll post here to let you (well, me – I don’t know who else reads this!) know how I’ve got on.

And because I’m in the mood to spread this further, I’m going to ask you to do the same.  If you’ve got a “debt” of your own to repay then you could join in, blog about your experiences and then feel free to add a wee link to it below.  Maybe together we could come up with a big bank of simple ways to Pay it Forward…


23 responses to “Pay It Forward

  1. Slummy – what a lovely idea. I had no idea that Paying it Forward actually had a name. I’ve never consciously thought about it this way but hope that my life does operate on showing kindness to others (unless i’m in a really bad mood!) Funnily enough a few years ago when I was heavily pregnant with my second child my son locked me out of the house and the only person who helped me was an elderly man who lived down the road. Since then we have moved but I used to see him around and always stop to say hello to him, he lived alone and enjoyed a ‘chat’. I did see him in Sainsbury’s about a year after we’d moved and went up to him whilst he was getting his bananas. I had to reintroduce myself, remind him of what happened and it was great seeing his face light up. I haven’t had the opportunity to repay any damsels in distress but I did scare off some burglars from a house down the road and put an anonymous note through their door to tell them what happened and that they needed to look into better security. I will post if I do any more Paying it Forward soon. I look forward to reading what you get up to. There was a New Year’s Resolution thing on Channel 4 website and they did something similar one day – maybe look there for some more inspiration. Good luck!

    • I know what you mean, Michelle. It’s not like I woke up this week and decided to start thinking of others more, but giving it a structure – making it a more conscious decision each day/week will hopefully mean I maximise the opportunities around me.

      What a lovely gentleman your helper sounds like. I’m sure he was really touched that you not only remembered him but that you appreciated him.

  2. I’ve been paying it forward forever! I think I overhelp (if thats a word) & I do wonder sometimes because like yourself not many people come to my aid/rescue! But its just my nature so I won’t be stopping any time soon. I’m definitely in “credit” :)) But it was a lovely post & if it makes people sit up & start helping others as a matter of course, we will all be better off.

    • That’s lovely. So many people have forgotten to look for ways to help others and are solely focussed on helping themselves that it’s lovely to hear about people consciously trying to do good. Why is being a “dogooder” considered a bad thing? If you ever blog about any of the things you do, you should share it! Inspire others to follow your example.

  3. Great idea I’ll be doing it. I actually blogged about this a week ago, when a lovely lady gave my three children and I a lift home out of the blue. I am always willing to help people and teach my children to do the same.

    There is also an organisation on twitter called the kindness riot (@Kindnessriot), who are dedicated to this very same cause. I think it’s great and will only serve to make the world a better place for us and our children.


    • Thanks! I’ll look it up on Twitter. Maybe we should make a Twitter hashtag thing so that when we go the extra mile for people or Pay it Forward we can see what we’re all up to. I’m not very clued up on linking blogs and using Twitter though, so I may just be making it up…

      • No you’re right we should definitely create a hash tag too, will help attract all the lovely people out there and encourage others to be more nice too.

        Lovely, lovely idea slummytoyummymummy : )

  4. I love this concept, and am absolutelty ‘in’. Think the twitter hashtag thing is a great idea too. What an uplifting post. Thank you! x

    • It does, you’re right. I’ll keep a watch out. I’ve just put up a link to this post with the hash tag #payitfoward but if anyone knows of a different/better one then do share.

  5. Hello! You know I’m a firm believer having posted about it previously and also today… It doesn’t take much but it can make such a difference to someone’s day… Go on, pay it forward!

    • Thanks! It’s so simple and really effective. Have you done anything recently? Mrs W printed out an elderly neighbour’s favourite TV programmes in large font size so she could read them herself. She shared it on twitter with the hash tag #payitforward.

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  9. I loved this blog! This year my family has been working on our own pay it forward project. Each week we look for some way to help someone. The result has been remarkable! Our whole focus has changed and that has made all the difference. I have been writing about it on my blog: Writing has been such a wonderful outlet but paying it forward is changing my life! Thanks for writing about it.


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