#17 Don’t pay me back, pay it forward (from) 49 Life Lessons it took me 50 years to learn
Back in 2000 the movie Pay It Forward was released and although at the time it was only moderately successful at the box office it has since (the concept anyway) developed a cult following. The film is set in Las Vegas in the present day, and it chronicles 11-year-old Trevor McKinney’s launch of a goodwill movement known as ‘pay it forward‘. The film stars Haley Joel Osment as Trevor, Helen Hunt as his alcoholic single mother Arlene McKinney, and Kevin Spacey as his physically and emotionally scarred social studies teacher Eugene Simonet.
I am sure if you are reading this blog you are part of the 90% of people in the world that have heard, if not of the original book and movie, you will definitely know of the concept.
In 2000 I was 34, married, and a mother of two small kids. To say the movie impacted me is an understatement. Yes, I cried at the end. But the feeling it left me with lasted for weeks and weeks. Not happy, not sad but definitely moved in a massive way. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and the power this ‘pay it forward’ concept could have on the world.
Now keep in mind this was long before the power of social media and so I was really unaware of the power this movement would garner over the years, to become a concept that the world now knows and embraces. There are foundations, charity groups, community groups, a plethora of ways in which this concept is making a difference in the world.
But back up with me again to the year 2000. As a 34 year old wife and mother all I could think about was how can I implement paying it forward in my life? And it was at this time that I made the decision to do just that. Now rather than wait for someone do something for me and then ‘pay it forward’ I decided that I could just ‘pay it forward’ every day.
So I began with always paying two tolls at the toll gates. I’d pay for my car and the car behind me. I never looked to see who was behind me, this was never about them and their gratitude, this was about me and my newly adopted principles. In fact, sometimes there wasn’t a car behind me at all and the toll dude would calmly point this out (like I’d lost the plot perhaps). To which I would reply, “I know. But there will be soon”. Now obviously there are no toll booths anymore, but this never deterred me.
I also collect coffee reward cards. I fill them up and then leave the ‘free coffee’ under a random car’s windscreen.
If I receive a scratchie and win, I cash them into $1 scratchies and also place them under random car’s windscreens. Sometimes I’ll just buy ten $1 scratchies and do the same thing.
Occasionally I will handwrite a bunch of notes that say “I hope you have an amazing day! :)” and also leave these in random places.
One time, I got let off a traffic fine. So the next time I filled up my petrol tank, I paid for my fuel and the fuel of the next person who walked in behind me.
I want to make it clear though, that I don’t ‘pay it forward’ in the hope that something ‘good’ will happen to me, or for acknowledgement of any kind. I do it because it fills my imagination with possibilities. Possibilities of what might happen next in the day of the person that randomly receives a ‘pay it forward’ gesture.
I imagine it might change what they do next.
I imagine it might change a conversation they are about to have.
I imagine it might change a course of action they are about to take.
I imagine it might change a decision they are about to make.
And then I imagine what that might lead to… and so on… and so on…
So for me, paying it forward is about creating new possibilities in the world.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of gratitude and we can all make sure that is something we practice everyday.
But for me, ‘paying it forward’ is about something bigger.
A ripple effect.
A tipping point for change.
A shift in the status quo.
A different way of thinking.
A different way of being.
And what I know for sure is this.
Ghandi said it best. I want to ‘be the change I want to see in the world’.