Pay it forward

Pay It Forward

Yesterday was Pay It Forward Day.  The concept is a familiar one – often in tandem with random acts of kindness.  It calls to mind ideas such as purchasing coffee for the person in line behind you or bringing in your neighbor’s trash bins.  The original idea, though, was focused on BIG acts of kindness.  Ones that involved personal sacrifice.   That makes the idea of Pay It Forward much harder.  Is it worth it?

Pay It Forward – A History

I decided to do some research to find out the origin of Pay It Forward.  I naively assumed it started with the movie, “Pay It Forward”, which was released in 2000 and featured the star-studded cast of Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey, and Haley Joel Osment (the kid from The Sixth Sense).  But, of course, the movie was based on a book, Pay It Forward, written by Catherine Ryan Hyde where the concept originated.

The gist of the story is that a seventh grader, Trevor, is given an assignment by his Social Studies teacher: think of an idea that can change the world and try it.  Trevor, being the sensitive and astute person that he is, comes up with the idea of paying it forward

Pay It Forward – The Concept

A single person does one significant act of kindness for three different people.  But it must be a big gesture, one that truly makes a difference in someone’s life.  One that probably involves great self-sacrifice.  The person who receives the act of kindness needs not give anything in return to the giver.  However, he or she must pay it forward by helping three other people in need, explaining to them the terms of the gift and their own responsibility to pay it forward in the future.

Sounds like a wonderful movie to watch with your kids, right?  That’s what I thought.  Not so fast.  Both the movie and book cover heavy topics such as drug use, homelessness, alcoholism, abuse and death.  I would vet it first if you have a young child.  That being said, Hyde released Pay It Forward: Young Readers’ Edition in 2014.  (I haven’t read it yet but plan on reviewing it soon and writing a post on kindness books for middle schoolers/teens to follow up on my post, My Favorite Kindness Books for Kids.)

BIG Acts of Kindness

What surprised me most when I delved into the origins of Pay It Forward was that the acts of kindness were supposed to be BIG – life-changing big.  For example, the first way Trevor tried to help someone was taking in a homeless person (without his mother’s knowledge) to help rehabilitate him.  He gave him food, shelter, a shower and all his savings to help get the man back on his feet.  I won’t tell you more because I don’t want to spoil it, but you can imagine, it was risky.

Let me be very clear: I am not encouraging people to put yourself in danger or sacrifice your health and well-being.  I firmly believe that there must be balance when giving to others.  It is important to consider both your own and your loved ones needs first. 

However, revisiting the origins of this concept made me question my quest to create a habit of kindness in my life.  Could I be doing more?  Am I really making an impact?

Why Go Big?

Why should we put ourselves on the line for someone else?  Big acts of kindness are scary.  They push us out of our comfort zones.  That’s how we know they’re big.  And when we push ourselves out of our comfort zones, we expand our own world and grow as a person. 

“Courage has a ripple effect.  Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.  And our world could stand to be a little kinder and braver.”  

– Brené Brown: The Gifts of Imperfection

So, is the risk and the sacrifice worth it?  I don’t know.  That’s a personal decision.  But don’t underestimate yourself.  Big acts of kindness make life-changing impacts.  And if we can change lives, we can change the world.

What intimidates you about big acts of kindness?

“Courage has a ripple effect. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver. And our world could stand to be a little kinder and braver.”
- Brené Brown

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