Pay It Forward, originally published in 1999, is a terrific book. In 2000, it was made into a feature film. A young adult version of Pay It Forward was released in 2014, and became a bestseller. Despite all the commercial and popular success, the greatest feat of Pay It Forward has been encouraging people, all over the world, to be kind.
The concept of the book is simple; rather than payback acts of benevolence, pay it forward; do something good for another. Ideally, the recipients of your kindness pay it forward, as well, and goodwill spreads, indefinitely, like ripples in a pond.
Kindness, and all it encompasses, is a critical human quality, integral to well being. Kindness, fortunately, is everywhere. Without the kindness of strangers, I’d be dead.
On a cold, cold night, in rural France, 30 years ago, a young mother, with her two children, in the car, picked me up, hitch hiking. I spent the night at their house and, the next day, her, equally, kind husband took me to a train station.
I don’t see many hitchhikers, anymore. When I do, I pick them up, sketchy or otherwise.
On another occasion, a fellow gave me a fistfull of Francs and told me to have a good time, in Paris. I was getting out of the his car, thanking him for the ride, at the time. He knew we’d never meet, again, but he gave me money and drove off.
Since, I haven’t been able to walk past a homeless person, without trying to help. Years ago, we were running to a church, late for our daughter’s baptism, when I yelled, “Stop.” I handed off the child, turned around, went back, and gave money to the fellow, sitting on the sidewalk, cap in hand.
My wife said, “I knew you’d do that.”
I said, “Good.” We walked into the ostentatious, palatial house of God and I forgave them.
The author of Pay It Forward, Catherine Ryan Hyde, explains the genesis for her book. In the early 1970s, she was a young woman living in LA, with little money and an old car. One evening, stopped at red light, in a bad part of town, her engine caught fire. A bad situation, no doubt, Ryan Hyde’s fortunes quickly turned when two strangers, came running to her aid and put the fire out with blankets and bare hands.
The fire department and police showed up, naturally. Ryan Hyde spoke to them, and in the confusion and drama, the men, who had put the fire out, left, without a word. She never saw them, again. didn’t learned their names, or anything about them. As she explains, had she been able to say, “Thank you,” that would have been the end of a nice story, not the start of global movement.
However, by fleeing the scene, the two men left Ryan Hyde unable to express her gratitude or pay them back. With a determination to make things right and return the kindness, Ryan Hyde went about looking for people in need. She returned their kindness by paying it forward. Ryan Hyde was startled strangers could be so selflessly kind.
I know where she is coming from. It was a different time and a generation, but I was told to be leery of strangers; lock your doors, disparage hitchhikers; hoard your money…
When I was young and dumb and hitchhiking, I couldn’t believe how nice people were.
At first, I experienced an extreme sense of incredulity, when strangers were nice, “You did that for me? I don’t know you. I don’t owe you.” It was love at first experience and I’ve been trying to pay it forward, since.
The book, Pay It Forward, is the story of Trevor McKinney, a twelve year old boy, from a small town in California, who comes from a broken, dysfunctional home. At school, Trevor’s Social Studies teacher gives the class an assignment: think of something which will change the world.
Accepting the challenge, Trevor decides to do a good deed for three people. Rather than have the recipients return the kindness to him, Trevor asks them to pay it forward to three others. He hopes kindness will spread. There are ups and downs, challenges, and frustrations, naturally, but Trevor perseveres and, unbeknownst to himself, makes the world better.
Like the men, who put out the car fire, Trevor isn’t aware of the butterfly effect his kindness has had, but he carries on, regardless. An expectation of payback or compensation cheapens a gesture. Kindness provides its own rewards.
Science and research, often, affirm what is, intrinsically, known: an act of kindness benefits both parties. The recipient of goodwill, obviously, is better off, after a nice gesture. However, the doer of a good deed feels better, too.
Kindness causes the body to release positive chemicals, such as serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, which benefit mental, physical, and spiritual health. Similar to petting a dog, acts of goodwill make you feel better. People who volunteer, for example, are inevitably happier than those who don’t. Kind, thoughtful people have happier marriages and better relationships.
In an effort to make narcissists more palatable and compatible, they are coached to be kind. This does nothing for the reptilian heart of an egomaniac. However, teaching a narcissist that kindness will increase their status and popularity motivates them to behave nicely and nice people finish first, (ideally).
Kindness takes courage. Like all interpersonal skills, I get better with practise. Kindness, as with charity, begins at home. More than anyone, I try to be generous, respectful, forgiving, and kind to my girls.
I ask them to pay it forward and the world is better off.
Here’s a fifty-word poem about kindness, called Kindness.
Kindness Being kind is easy Being kind is free Kindly is how we are meant to be Kindness makes you happy Kindness makes you smile Kindness is hip Kindness has style Kindness brings joy Kindness is bliss Life is a plot Here is the twist Kindness is the reason we exist