Nearly two decades ago. author Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a book that sparked a movement that made us pay more attention to kindness. Inspired by acts of kindness given to her, her novel tells the story of repaying an act of kindness forward to others instead of the reciprocal recipient. The book quickly became a best-seller, winning multiple awards and in a few short years adapted into a major motion picture. We can thank Catherine for reintroducing the “pay it forward” concept into our cultural lexicon so we that we immediately know what to do when asked.
How has the concept of paying it forward changed your life?
That’s a different question for me than it would be for most people. In my life, the concept turned into a book and then a movie, and it changed my life as a writer in addition to changing me personally. But from a more personal viewpoint, it caused me to look a lot more closely at the human condition, and at the way we treat each other. As the book was taking shape in my mind, I began to make observations. I thought a lot about the “Golden Rule.” Doing unto others as we would have others do unto us…a great concept. If we really followed it, I swear the only problem left in the world would be weather related. It seems we don’t, though. It seems we do unto others as we have been done to. That may appear to be the bad news, but it’s what got me thinking that maybe we can still turn it around. After I received a huge kindness from strangers many years ago, it changed what I was willing to give to someone else. So that seems like the big change hiding in Pay It Forward. It allows for the chance that we really can send the cycle of our treatment of one another in a more positive direction.
Why should the pay it forward philosophy be a daily practice, especially in young people?
I never really try to tell people how often they should pay it forward. I’d rather just say that if kids practice doing acts of kindness, they’re going to like the results. And they’ll probably find themselves doing it more often than they had planned.
What are some easy ways people can practice acts of kindness?
Again, I don’t like to suggest “how.” And I’ll tell you why not. Because the biggest change one makes to the world (in my opinion) is not the kind act itself, but the way we begin to pay attention to those around us. When we decide we’ll “pay it forward,” but we don’t yet know how, we begin to watch the people around us to see what they need. This to me is the heart of the change we bring, and I don’t want to foreclose on it by suggesting kind acts. People get in touch with their innate kindness, and find their own. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Do you think we need kindness more than ever and how can paying it forward change the way we treat other?
I think we have always needed to be kinder to each other and probably always will. Yes, this is an important time. So was the time after 9/11, a year or two after the book was published. Let’s just say there’s no bad time. As the author of the book, I don’t feel right making any claims to what the idea can do. I’d rather say it will do no harm. And as to how much good it can do, I hope we’ll try it and see.
Give Back or Pay It Forward?
Either way, when we put others first, we are carving a path to greater happiness and well-being. We asked our readers to share with us how they like to practice acts of kindness.
I once organized a benefit for a teacher whose daughter had a rare form of cancer. In five weeks, we rallied the community and raised over $5,000 for her and her family. I used my organization and volunteerism spirit to get it going…the community did the rest.—Amber B.
I am a professional volunteer. Have been volunteering for charities for 27 years and raised my children at charity events.—Lynn W.
We love to help others in our church, such as driving people to job interviews and helping with moves. As part of our graphic-design business, we provide pro bono work for nonprofit organizations, and it always seems to be much more fun to do.—Jen L.
Help the Less Fortunate
While traveling to California to take my stepson back to his mother, I was approached by a very nice woman asking for a dollar or two in gas money. I had already fueled up my rental car and had no cash so I told her if she pulled her car up to the pump, I would put some gas in it for her.—Jessica D.
I give money and food to the homeless at our local shopping area. I love seeing their smiles. Paying it forward makes you feel great!—Helen B.
Do the Small Things
I love to pay for the car behind me at a drive-through.—Laura C.
When purchasing from the local store, I “pay” the stickers that come with their many promotions “forward” to the next person who comes along who has children who want the stickers. My children are grown and no longer collect them for their school or just for fun, so it’s a simple way to give what I don’t need to someone else.—Delia M.
Really see people and you will receive the greater gift. It will be the gift of knowing that they are happy!—Mary K.
We share positive posts hoping to spread some happiness and love!—Moxie J.
Living up to my name by practicing caring, compassion and service daily.—Joy G.
Smiling is important and it is free. Underwear and socks are also great to provide to persons in shelters.—Janet P.