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