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Pay It Forward

Have you ever seen the Haley Joel Osment movie Pay It Forward? If not, then I can't recommend it highly enough and if so, you probably have an idea where I'm going with this.

Briefly, the story revolves around a junior high school student (Osment), who is given a an assignment to come up with an idea to change the world for the better, and then to put it into action. Let's just say he does and the movie is awesome, thought provoking and inspiring because of it. Please watch it - or watch it again - at your earliest convenience because it may just change the way you think.

Now I'm inviting you to join me in my car's passenger seat earlier this week, as I went about my day. I'd flung the kids into school and was on my way to an appointment; all was well. I pull up to a T-junction which is punctuated by a mini-roundabout. There was no oncoming traffic from the right, the path around the roundabout was clear and so I pulled out to turn right. At this moment an old silver Nissan Primera shoots out from the left like a stray arrow, way too fast, causing me to slam on my brakes. The younger, more hot-headed version of me would almost certainly have gestured something... errr... unfriendly, but my change game is strong and I'm not that person any more.

The first thing I noticed was the age of the gentleman driving, who was well into his 80's. His eyes were rhuemy and he appeared uncomfortably aware of his error. He waved me forwards, inviting me to drive in front of him, acknowledging he'd cut me up and had almost caused an accident, but he couldn't look at me, choosing to only look straight ahead. Had I been so inclined, he would have been an easy target for verbal abuse, but what would that have achieved? My younger, lesser self may have needed my immature ego to be temporarily inflated by berating him, but what harm had actually been done? None. He'd made an error, but who hasn't? The number of unforced and unintended errors I make on a daily basis are too numerous to count, so why not just give this guy a break? So I did. There was no horn honking, no gestures of any kind, I just waited a nano second for him the collect his thoughts, and he was on his way. Hopefully someone will offer me the same courtesy the next time I'm less than perfect in 3... 2... 1...

This got me thinking about Pay It Forward again, and how little random acts of kindnesses can change the complexion of someone's entire day - and the Universe will pay you back if they can't. Let me give you another example: Years ago I was at the doctor's surgery, speaking with a Receptionist at the desk. To my right a little old lady was having a problem, and was beginning to become quite distressed about her predicament. Apparently she needed to get to the pharmacy about half a mile away, and a steep uphill half a mile at that, and return to the surgery within the hour. The little old lady was infirm and didn't have a car, so the chances of her completing this mission within the time constraints were slim to middling. Yes, she could have called a taxi, but oh god the expense! So I offered to take her to the pharmacy, wait whilst she did what she had to do, and then returned her to the surgery as required. This took all of 15 minutes out of my day, but it changed the complexion of her day completely.

Now, this little old lady couldn't have paid me back in a like-for-like exchange, but it appears the Universe noticed. We've all heard about how Karma is a bitch, but only if you are. Well Karma also plays nicely too, if you do. I won't bore you by reading through the mammoth catalogue of random acts of kindnesses I've received over the years, but the majority of them have come in from directions I didn't think possible. I've had people swoop from nowhere to help me with daunting challenges. I've been given random nuggets of kindly professional advice, which completely altered the trajectory of my life for the better. Then there are those - too numerous to name - who have gone above and beyond what I thought they'd do, just out of the kindness of their hearts. What you give out comes back to you in spades, so why wouldn't you?

Of course whether Lady Karma gives you spades of good fortune, or steaming spades of manure, is entirely of your own making. You get what you give, so here's my plan I'm offering for your consideration and participation: Look for opportunities to sprinkle random acts of kindness wherever you can. Count how many you rack up every day; keep a tally chart in your diary if it helps you to focus. Then try and beat today's tally tomorrow and repeat, repeat, repeat. Here is a brief list of the kinds of things to be on the look out for:

Courtesy; hold doors open for everyone, smile a lot, say "please" and "thank you", give way in traffic, offer general politeness as standard. We need to de-fang the levels of rage and intolerance that are currently all pervading, and courtesy with respectful discourse is our first line of neutralisation.

Give; whether it's money and material stuff to charity, your blood at the Blood Bank, cupcakes to your children's weekly cake stall at school, your time by volunteering for a good cause, or to the person struggling to make change at a parking meter. Honestly, you spend more than that on a takeaway or a bottle of wine, so why not change the complexion of their day by paying it forward?

Help; look for ways to help. Ask yourself: "Can I help with that?" and then ask yourself "Why wouldn't I, why not?" The way I look at these things is this, if I would appreciate help with X if I were in their shoes, then I help. For example: If I'm 20p short at the parking meter and would gratefully accept 20p from a kindly stranger, then I would offer 20p if I saw you struggling. I would not however appreciate your "advice" on how to manage a tantrum-flinging toddler, so I would therefore keep my own counsel if you were struggling with your toddler. It's the same premise the Organ Donation Service uses: If you would accept vital organ(s) for either yourself or your loved ones, then surely you must be willing to give what you'd be prepared to receive?

I'm going to give you a break; when life happens, when the life shifts hit the fan and you almost have a car accident, or someone does something to annoy, hurt or thwart you, stop and say quietly inside, but otherwise directed at the other person: "I'm going to give you a break, please enjoy the rest of your day". Choose to rise above, choose not to react negatively, choose to be the best version of yourself you can be, at every conceivable opportunity. Whilst it may admittedly take a while to change the world with this philosophy, it won't take long at all to change your world, because what goes round comes round.

Can you just imagine what the world would feel like if everyone became this patient, tolerant, compassionate and understanding? Can you imagine what your world would be like if more people thought and acted upon: "There for the grace of God go I, so I'm going to give you a break and help you"? Has the magnitude of that vision just made your toes curl? Yes, it is a massive undertaking, but as with all huge goals we must start small and together combined - which is where the Pay It Forward principle comes in.

Think about it. If someone offers you a random act of kindness when you need it most, which completely changes your world for the better, then wouldn't you want to help someone to keep the positive vibe flowing? The thing is, if we spend our lives obsessively hoarding everything, whether it's love, kindness, money, other material stuff, time or achievements only for our own benefit and enjoyment, then the energy stops flowing and ultimately stagnates; and what stagnates eventually becomes toxic. Somebody somewhere needs to make the first move, and I'm certainly making moves to improve the world I inhabit wherever I can find them, so please won't you join me and and spread the word?

How many times can you say quietly inside your mind: "I'm going to give you a break, please enjoy the rest of your day", before helping and changing someone else's day for the better? Then watch what happens in your life. Remember, what you give out you get back with interest.

For those scoffing at the ideas I've put forward here, may I remind you of this very old proverb:


This is a story about four people named ANYBODY, EVERYBODY, SOMEBODY and NOBODY. There was an important job to be done and EVERYBODY was sure that SOMEBODY would do it. ANYBODY could have done it, but NOBODY did it. SOMEBODY got angry about that, because it was EVERYBODY's job. EVERYBODY thought ANYBODY could do it, but NOBODY realised that EVERYBODY wouldn't do it. It ended up that EVERYBODY blamed SOMEBODY when NOBODY did what ANYBODY could have done.

So, if not you, then who? If not now, then when? If not at all, then what comes next? I'll leave that with you.


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