December 1, 2010

Pay It Forward Day

Started by David Del Mundo and publicized via Facebook, Pay It Forward Day is a day in which we can do random acts of kindness—a good deed for a total stranger, without expecting anything in return. 

Here are some of David's suggestions for this day:
  • Pay for someone's cup of coffee...
  • Buy a meal for the next person in line...
  • Buy someone some groceries...
  • Get the next person's gas...
  • Give a stranger a bouquet of flowers...
  • Help someone out, if you see a need, or donate something needed...

The whole idea of “pay it forward” is that good deeds aren't necessarily repaid in kind by recipients, but that they will feel good about people in general and do a good deed to someone else. When a lot of people are doing good things for other people, the originator of the good deed will inevitably have someone, some time, do a good deed for him or her as well. It's called "generalized reciprocity."

This concept was a key plot element in a play in ancient Greece (around 300 BCE) and in a 2000 novel and movie.

Benjamin Franklin said that “paying it forward,” when concerning money, is a way of doing “a deal of good with a little money.” Here is what he suggested to a fellow:

I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you [...] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro' many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress.

The concept has also been expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, famed college football coach Woody Hayes, a spokesperson for Alcoholics Anonymous, sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein, Oprah, and a Pay It Forward Foundation

Here's one pay-it-forward story:

Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos visited Harvard University. There he met a promising math student who was about to be expelled because he was unable to pay his tuition. Erdos paid the young man's tuition in full. Years later the grateful man offered to return the entire amount to Erdos, but Erdos insisted that the man find another student in a similar situation and give the tuition to him. (It occurs to me, cynic that I am, that the tuition may have gone up drastically “years later.”)

Of course, "paying it forward" doesn't have to involve a lot of money, such as college tuition. It doesn't have to involve ANY money—it could be effort, time, help, support. Even small favors or expenditures of just a few dollars might do a world of good holiday-spirit-wise, community-spirit-wise, happiness-wise!

Note: There is also an International Pay It Forward Day on April 28.

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