Pay it forward reminds us of the power of giving

“I don’t understand,” I said. “Why is it free?” “It’s not free,” she explained. “It was paid for by the person in front of you.”

“Together we can change the world, one good deed at a time.”

– Blake Beattie, Founder of International Pay It Forward Day

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Why is it free?”

“It’s not free,” she explained.

“It was paid for by the person in front of you.”

She pointed to the white SUV disappearing around the corner.

I had been waiting in the drive-through of a local coffee shop to pay for my usual fare of muffins and joe. It was a busy morning and the line seemed to be moving more slowly than usual.

When I reached the window, I was told I didn’t owe anything but, if I liked, I could pay for the order placed by the car behind me.

“It’s pay it forward day,” explained the server with a big smile. “You’re number 28.”

I looked in my rear view mirror. I could see the man in the sedan behind me. From the way he was checking his watch and tapping the steering wheel, I could tell he was impatient.

“You mean to say that 28 people paid for the order of those waiting behind them in line?” The server nodded and smiled, glanced at the vehicles in line and then back at me.

“Well I’m not going to break the chain,” I said. “What does the guy behind me owe?”

The server told me he owed for four coffees and I gladly paid the bill.

As I began to pull away, I could see the driver behind me raise his hands in the air as if to say, “Finally.”

I wondered what he would think we he discovered that I had paid it forward.

“Pay it forward” is a termed used to describe the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it to another instead of the original benefactor.

The concept is not a new one.

In fact, the phrase is most often credited to Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 novel, In the Garden of Delight.

The concept of paying it forward goes back even farther.

In an 1841 essay entitled Compensation, Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom.

“But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”

When was the last time you paid it forward or offered up a kind gesture simply for the joy of doing it?

Many of us have become so wrapped up in our own distress that life has become a kind of endurance test, the object being to do whatever you can, as quickly as you can, to relieve the pain, anxiety and frustration.

In our haste, we sometimes forget the fundamental principles of building healthy, long-term relationships: confidence, gratitude and appreciation.

Now understand, I’m not talking about people-pleasing or destructive self-denial. That helps no one, especially the individual doing the pleasing and denying.

I’m talking about focusing our attention on others and truly looking for ways to help them out in a healthy and appropriate manner.

When we do, we feel great and our self-esteem rises as we begin to recognize that our efforts have value.

When we begin to understand that we can actually initiate change we feel more purposeful and empowered.

This tangible boost to our self-esteem and self-confidence is never lost when helping others. We carry it forward into our next encounter, our next connection, our next handshake, our next smile and our next opportunity to serve.

There are many ways to pay it forward. All you need to do is be attentive wherever you may happen to be and the opportunity will present itself.

Perhaps you have an elderly or disabled neighbour who could use a little help with yard work. Maybe someone in line behind you at the grocery store only has a few items and you have a cart load so you let them go ahead.

Maybe you see someone who could really use a coffee so you buy him one.

To take it a step further, find an organization or a cause you are passionate about and help strengthen your community by getting involved.

And if someone says thank you (and most people will), acknowledge it and ask them to pay it forward.

Perhaps suggest that you’d like them to do something nice for someone they don’t know, and ask that someone to do something nice for someone else. The idea is to consciously increase the goodness of the world. You can change people’s attitudes and the world itself through a simple, unselfish act of kindness.

I remember being upset because I had been asked to work late on a project.

I had made plans for the evening that had to be cancelled and, worst of all, I was famished.

After a frustrating hour in front of my computer, I went for a walk around the building. When I returned, I was astounded to find a burger, fries and soft drink sitting on my desk.

A note clipped to it read, “Enjoy. What you do is important and appreciated.” No signature. No claim to fame. I enjoyed the meal and, as a result of this simple act of kindness, enjoyed the rest of my evening, too.

In recent years, pay it forward has now become an international movement.

As Blake Beattie says, “Pay it Forward Day is a time when we all can remind ourselves of the power of giving, and in the process we make this world that little bit brighter.” I like that. I also like what Albert Einstein had to say: “A life lived for others is the only life worth living.”

The next Pay it Forward Day is Thursday, April 23, 2015.

I heard later that someone broke the chain at the coffee shop.

Apparently, someone who had his four coffees paid for decided to break the chain and pulled away without paying for the three coffees behind him. How will you pay it forward today?

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.

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