clasped-hands-541849_640Often in life we get something from someone that makes our life better. It could be words of encouragement, a gift of money, or a good push that gets us going again. At the time we think to ourselves that we need to pay them back someday. Often we do nothing since we don’t realize how significant the help was until much later. Enter “pay it forward.”

Embraced by the ancient Greeks, the concept is simple. Someone gives something to another with no expectation of repayment or of anything return, yet the gift has meaning or is helpful to the recipient. Instead of paying the giver back, the recipient pays forward by offering a similar gift to a third person. Thus, the gift is everlasting.

Could a gift from 2500 years ago still be having a positive impact today? The answer is yes if each recipient honored the gift by doing the same for a new person. While this may sound a bit utopian, it does explain a few things in our current society or news events. We often hear of someone helping another in a time of crisis such as a disaster.

Here is an example. Just a month ago in Fresno, California an anonymous stranger walked by a house and discovered it to be on fire. Inside the burning home is a 73 year-old man who is apparently unable to exit or unaware of the fire. The elderly man’s daughter who escaped the fire is screaming for her father to exit. The stranger calmly enters the blaze, finds the old man, and carries him out to safety. The house quickly burns to the ground. The daughter tends to her father while the fire fighters and emergency response team arrive. The stranger walked away never to be seen again.

While this example is extraordinary, it is not uncommon and is a clear example of paying it forward. How might we apply this is our daily lives in the 21st century? We can start by giving to others unconditionally. The gifts can be small but still have great impact.

Here are a few ideas:
1. Donate blood
2. Volunteer at a school
3. Let the car merge in front of you
4. Donate to your favorite charity
5. Pick up litter while hiking
6. Neuter or spay your dog or cat
7. Donate to a charity
8. Smile at a stranger
9. Offer your seat on a bus to someone else
10. Buy coffee for the person in line behind you

The key to paying it forward is to give to others with no expectation of getting anything in return. If they try to repay you, tell them to pay it forward.

John Bradley Jackson
Author, Entrepreneur, Professor
© Copyright 2014
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