I’ve never been very good at keeping a New Year’s Resolution. Like many people, I start out all fired up but then lose my enthusiasm a few weeks in. Of course, reflecting on how we have fallen short and then designing a plan to “fix it” is admirable, but after writing down my personal “fix myself” goals, I realized that I also wanted something bigger, something deeper. I want to consciously become a better person.
A close friend recently told me about the idea of “Paying it Forward” or “Passing on the Gift.” I was intrigued from the start, so I did what writers do: I researched it. It’s an old concept that gets resurrected periodically through history, one being in 2000 when the novel entitled, Pay it Forward, by Catherine Ryan Hyde, was made into a movie with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. The basic idea is that you do a good deed for someone in need and ask them to pay it forward for someone else rather than paying you back. In the movie good deeds are done for three people and each of those people are asked to do it for three people thus spreading the kindness exponentially!
The concept was also popularized by a writer named Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein was a mentor to Ray Bradbury and in Bradbury’s 1957 novel, Dandelion Wine, the main character reflects on his life being saved by a Mr. Jonas.
“How do I thank Mr. Jonas, he wondered, for what he’s done? How do I thank him, how do I pay him back? No way, no way at all. You just can’t pay. What then? What? Pass it on somehow, he thought, pass it onto someone else. Keep the chain moving. Look around, find someone, and pass it on. That was the only way …”
When Ray Bradbury himself mentored other writers, he told them to thank him by helping other writers! But there are many to pay it forward from doing something as simple as holding the door for a stranger, or telling an underpaid store clerk to keep the five dollars in change. My friend got me started buying the person next to me a drink at Starbucks and asking them to do a random act of kindness for someone else. I love seeing the element of surprise on the face of the recipient, but you could also do something like pay the toll for the car behind you or babysit and give your neighbor a much needed night out. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. The key is to do the good deed consciously so that you sow the seeds of benevolence in the world and raise your own awareness about the power of loving kindness while igniting it in others. So far, so good! The response has been lots of shocked faces and grateful smiles!
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scary events of the world we live in. I am only one person and maybe I can’t solve the big problems, but I know I can make a difference and so can you. My New Year’s Resolution is to do my own part by “paying it forward” one small, positive act at a time!