Paying it forward


The other day, everyone in my drive-through line at a neighborhood Starbucks was paying it forward–paying for the order of the person in the car behind.  It’s always fun to be both the recipient and the giver in these instances.  It renews one’s sense of humanity and appreciation for simple kindnesses, and brings us face to face with questions about how we want to live our lives as members of a larger society.

This happened to me once at GreenAcres. I paid for my groceries and was clocking out, when I noticed I was missing something in my sack. I hurried back to retrieve it, only to find the checker hadn’t seen it and had failed to charge me for it. By now the grocery line was getting long, but as I quickly repaired to the back of the line, a woman who had been behind me the first time noticed and immediately paid for my errant item and passed it down to me.

I was getting out my wallet when she waved me on: “Just pay it forward! I’m happy to do it!”

It was such an unexpected gesture, I looked for my special opportunity to do just that.

Obviously, we don’t have to wait for Christmas to get that warm fuzzy feeling toward our fellow man, but there’s just something about the season of giving that makes the generosity of others so welcomed.  It’s a time to reflect on our own actions as members of a community, and to take stock of the goals we have for ourselves to help build a better world. After all, peace begins with each of us, in our heart of hearts, then spreads throughout the world around us.

You can never think, “well, it’s just a little act of kindness…”  We don’t know where generosity of spirit will lead. We might take a single step and set an avalanche in motion.  Wondrous to ponder!

Searching the Internet for inspiration on this very subject, I came across an excellent article on from guest writer, John Whitehead, an attorney and author whose approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and accomplishments, including the Hungarian Medal of Freedom.

Here’s an edited version of what he had to say:

“Show compassion to those in need, be kind to those around you, forgive those who have wronged you, and teach your children to do the same. Increasingly, people seem to be forgetting their p’s and q’s–basic manners that were drilled into older generations. I’m talking about simple things like holding a door open for someone, helping someone stranded on the side of the road, and saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to those who do you a service–whether it be a checkout person bagging your groceries or a family member who just passed the potatoes. As author Robert Heinlein observed, ‘A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters.’

“Value your family. The traditional family, such that it is, is already in great disrepair, torn apart by divorce, infidelity, overscheduling, overwork, materialism, and an absence of spirituality. Despite the billions we spend on childcare, toys, clothes, private lessons, etc., a concern for our children no longer seems to be a prime factor in how we live our lives. And now we are beginning to see the blowback from collapsing familial relationships. Indeed, more and more, I hear about young people refusing to talk to their parents, grandparents being denied access to their grandchildren, and older individuals left to molder away in nursing homes. Yet without the family, the true building block of our nation, there can be no freedom.

“Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and comfort the lonely and broken-hearted. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Take part in local food drives. Take a meal to a needy family. ‘Adopt’ an elderly person at a nursing home. Support the creation of local homeless shelters in your community. Urge your churches, synagogues and mosques to act as rotating thermal shelters for the homeless during the cold winter months.

“Start somewhere, anywhere–just start. It’s not possible to solve all the world’s problems single-handedly, nor do you have to solve them overnight. Little by little, you’ll get there, but you have to start somewhere. It is up to each of us to do our part to make this a better world for all.”

During this countdown to Christmas, I’ll be looking for opportunities to pay it forward. Won’t you join me?