If you use Facebook or Twitter, chances are that you’ve come across some pretty amazing people – especially parents who have lost a child – asking others to pay it forward in honor of their loved one.
That often gets me thinking of how we want to focus on individual actions sometimes at the expense of the larger ways we can individually impact well, our whole community. Don’t get me wrong – purchasing a cup of coffee or paying someone’s toll fee is a really nice thing to do. Not only do you never know what sort of financial impact you have (paying off layaway) but the simple act of human kindness is unparalleled.
But there’s more. There are the everyday opportunities we have to pay forward the many, many blessings we have in our lives and have an equally significant impact – perhaps minus the chance to observe the smile or have a witness to our magnanimity.
This is sort of an amalgam of things people talk about on Facebook and what I’ve experienced in my own life.
1. Give the person in line with you using SNAP (food stamps) the benefit of the doubt. Don’t mentally assess the value of their clothing, glance at their cell model or peer into their grocery cart. Maybe they too have a very ill child and rely on food stamps b/c they gave up a job to care for the child. Maybe they are just having a hard time. This doesn’t cost anything. Just look them in the eye, smile and acknowledge them. I’m sure you’ve been judged w/o all the facts on the table. How gracious for you to pay forward the many other time you weren’t.
2. Once a month, gather the kids, siblings, whomever and volunteer together. Every month. No vacations or holidays or long weekends. Serve dinner the third Thursday at the shelter. Deliver meals on wheels the first Friday. Visit at the rec room for board game hour the second Saturday at the senior center. No announcements, no excuses. Pay forward the commitment to serve others as an absolute priority in your family.
3. Grab a bag, pull on some gloves and pick up litter. Don’t forget to sort the recyclables. Do it on your block, the riverfront or in a completely different part of town. Pay forward the fresh air and the sunshine and the rain that has nurtured you. One song about tree museums is enough.
4. The next time someone jaywalks, stop to let them pass safely by and nod your head. Remember the times you stepped off the beaten path or had to skirt the line or rush because something happened. Pay forward your physical safety and the fact that you are sitting in a car and not running to catch a bus or so disconnected from the value of your own life that you walk into traffic like its a game you can win.
5. Go to a meeting. Tell the School Board exactly what the teacher’s aide means to your child AND the children at a less affluent school where their Mom can’t miss work to advocate. Volunteer, donate, do what it takes to fund teachers and aides and libraries and arts and after school programs. Insist that each child deserves all of this to be paid forward to them.
6. Don’t laugh at the joke, comment, or knowing look. Don’t shift uncomfortably. Take a deep breath and say something. Defuse the negative vibe. Cut it off with a positive statement. Ask them to explain the joke. Speak to the supervisor. Pay forward that you are part of the in-crowd this very moment and not being dehumanized based on the length of your skirt, the color of your skin, the faith that sustains you or the fact that someone has to be “outside” for their to be an in-crowd.
7. Spend your money well. Your parents have pensions? Your spouse has a family health plan. Is shopping at a retailer who offers none of these things nor a livable wage paying it forward or simply relegating those things to history? We need jobs in America so we need to buy American made products. We need investment in our local neighborhoods so we need to shop local regardless of the expense. This list could get lengthy but you get the point. Walk the walk?
8. Continue to pay it forward. The turnpike fees. The drive-thru bills. The cups of coffee and lay-aways. Do those things. Do them because they make you feel good and they matter. And they sustain us and remind us of our connection to our neighbors.
How can you pay it forward on the macrolevel?