“When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.” said Eleanor Roosevelt. I believe this statement was her testament to the fact that life isn’t just about “showing up” whether that be to the dinner table, to the work place or for an after- hour’s brew at the neighborhood pub. I think she was telling us that we feel most alive when we are passing on something to others that will impact their life in a positive fashion. English novelist, George Elliot ( aka Mary Anne Evans 1819-1880) shared a similar sentiment when she stated, “ What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?”
This concept of reciprocity has frequently been attributed to the success of humans as a species. We are social creatures and we rely on each other to share what each possesses so we are free to reach beyond our own limitations. After all, if I don’t have to do everything, I can specialize in what I am good at. Reciprocity is also intrinsically connected to empathy and this too has been attributed to that same success. To feel the pain of another and to respond with kindness, understanding and help is so much a part of who we are as humans. The concept of sharing is part of every culture and points directly at the major role that inter-dependency plays in our very survival as a group. The idea of paying it forward goes back centuries; carved in stone by the Egyptians, reference in the Bible and even mentioned as early as 317 B.C in the Greek play, Dyskolos only to be rediscovered and described by Benjamin Franklin April 25, 1784 in one of his letters: “I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you. When you … meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands.”
April 25th is international Pay It Forward day; the day we are to be inspired to make our community better even if it is just through simple random acts of kindness. The movie version, Pay It Forward, was released in 2000 and starred Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Jon Bon Jovi and Haley Joel Osment. This romance drama was about a social studies teacher who challenged his class to make the world a better place by doing three things that would make a positive impact in the life of three others. One student takes him seriously and does just that. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfW0wCV9iFI
For some, this idea may seem idealistic and therefore, remains just that –an idea. But, I hope this Food For Thought and the little video at the end of this piece will inspire you to look at your own good fortunes and to find a way to pay it forward to someone else. Pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line at the coffee shop, or pay the bus fare of the next person getting on. Smile and greet an elderly or physically challenged person. Drop off some fresh produce at your local food pantry ( not much of that is available to those who must use that service), spend a beautiful afternoon picking up trash at your local park. Be creative, get inspired and just do it. I have, on more than one occasion, had a graduate of one of my classes who had received a scholarship, send me a check to pay for a future student who would also need a scholarship to attend. They reported that they appreciated the scholarship that made it possible for them to participate and they just wanted to show appreciation for the gift by passing on the experience now that they were in a better financial place. That is paying it forward.
When I was at the Garden Expo in February, I was given numerous packets of vegetable seeds for no cost. I was just asked to pass on a portion of my vegetable crop to my local food pantry when I harvested them. I have been blessed with a wonderful garden so that is what I intend to do this year. Sharing that magnificent freshness with someone else will do wonders for my soul not to mention the exercise and fresh air I will get in the process. After all, isn’t it true that you can never do something for someone else without gaining something for yourself in doing so? So, check this out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qc8ZbVcdHpg and see what you might be inspired to do this April 25th.