Paying it forward is a third-party beneficiary concept that involves doing something good for someone in response to a good deed done on your behalf or a gift you received. When you pay it forward, however, you don't repay the person who did something nice for you. Instead, you do something nice for someone else. For example, if someone changes your tire while you are stranded on the highway, you might shovel your elderly neighbor's walkway after a snow has fallen.
The concept was popularized in modern times by a 2000 movie Pay It Forward, starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. In this movie, a young boy, played by Haley Joel Osment, is given a school assignment that requires him to find some way to change the world. He develops the pay it forward concept, setting forth a chain reaction of good deeds.
One of the most important things that people should remember about this concept is that it should be done with a selfless spirit. This means that one person helps another without hoping for repayment or good deeds in return. In fact, there are some organizations that allow people to pay it forward anonymously, donating money or performing good deeds without hoping for recognition. As far as the receiver of the money, gift, or good deed is concerned, he or she is told only to do something good for someone else.
The concept has a firm foundation in history. Ben Franklin described it in a letter he wrote to Benjamin Webb in 1784, in which he wrote about his intention to help Webb by lending him some money. He did not want to be repaid directly, however. Instead, Franklin hoped that Webb would at some point meet an honest man in need of financial help and pass the money along to him.
Paying it forward doesn't have to mean giving a large some of money or expending a lot of effort. It could be as simple as holding the door for someone laden with bags or giving up a place in line to someone who appears in a rush. It could even mean spending a little cash on coffee for the person behind you in line at a coffee house. For those who have money they can afford to give, there are always people in need, but even the smallest, free gestures can make a difference.
How To Pay It Forward at Work
Your job can be a great opportunity to get yourself and others involved in pay it forward activities. Paying it forward in the workplace builds trust and understanding among co-workers and fosters a positive work environment. Examples include:
- Buying lunch or coffee for a co-worker
- Volunteering to help with tasks
- Leaving a personalized note on a co-worker's desk
- Mentoring a less experienced co-worker
- Complimenting a co-worker on something specific they've been working on
Paying it forward is all about paying attention to the people around you and lending a helping hand when it is needed. If you observe your co-workers and listen to their concerns, you will be able to spot great opportunities to pay it forward in the office.
If you are a manager looking to implement a pay it forward initiative in your office, there are many positive events you could host, such as a "choose your charity" competition, a food drive or a company-sponsored yoga or wellness class. The possibilities are endless, and you can get creative in finding ways to encourage a pay it forward culture in the workplace.
How To Start a Pay It Forward Movement
Paying it forward feels great for you and the person you are helping, but how can you start a movement and get others to follow your lead?
Explain What You're Doing
It's important to mention the pay it forward concept when you are helping someone. The person may be surprised to see you doing a favor for them, and they may wonder if they should repay you in some way. You can help them understand where you're coming from by telling them you're paying it forward and encouraging them to do the same.
Spread the Word
If you want to start a movement at work or school, you can raise awareness of the concept by distributing flyers or sending a mass email explaining what it is, what people should expect and why people should get involved. You might be surprised by the number of people who respond positively to the pay it forward message. Many people want to do good and want to help others; they just need a small nudge in the right direction.
Be the Example
Most of all, you simply need to take action. Many people like the concept of paying it forward but are too shy to take the first step. If you reach out to that stranger and do something nice for them, it might be all you need to start a movement.
Why Pay It Forward Is Important
We live in a fast-paced and often chaotic world that may cause us to feel isolated and preoccupied with the details of our lives. Paying it forward is a great way to reach out and connect with a co-worker, peer or stranger in a meaningful way. It helps both the giver and receiver of the favor feel a greater sense of connection and belonging in society.
Paying it forward is also an exercise in empathy and selflessness. By encouraging the recipient of the favor not to pay you back and instead do something positive for someone else, you are making a conscious decision to value the lives of others without expecting a reward for yourself. Cultivating this attitude of empathy and selflessness can enrich your life and the lives of those around you.
The best part of paying it forward is that it's a chain reaction. Every person who receives a favor feels inspired to pay it forward, and all of the positive effects of the process are transferred to each new person who chooses to participate. Imagine the sum total of favors and lifted spirits that could result from one small gesture of kindness!