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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Paying It Forward

Last December, my daughter and I stopped by a grocery store to pick up a few items. I was shocked when the man ahead of us told the cashier that he was buying our groceries. After thanking him and telling him he had just made my day, I added that I would pay it forward.

one dozen yellow roses for delivery next dayA few times since then I have recalled my pledge, but the situation never seemed quite right. But recently, as I stood in the express line with my three items, I noticed a young man in line behind me. He was buying a dozen yellow roses. "Perfect!" I thought. "This is my chance to pay it forward."

I told the cashier that I wanted to pay for the flowers, in addition to my purchase. Both he and the young man were shocked. I explained that someone had bought my groceries one day, and that I was just paying it forward.

I relate this story not to brag, but to encourage others to pay it forward as well. Small acts of unexpected kindness or generosity can brighten the day not only of the recipient, but of the giver as well. It just feels good to do something nice for someone, with no expectation of repayment or anything in return. An act of kindness to a total stranger makes the experience even sweeter.

Paying it forward is quite simple. Just be on the lookout for opportunities to help someone by doing a random act of kindness. This can be as simple as helping someone carry their groceries to the car, or paying for a meal for a veteran or homeless person, or raking a yard when the homeowner is away. The person should be someone you don't know, or don't know very well. If the recipient of your kind act wants to pay you back somehow, suggest that he/she instead pay it forward.

This is important. We want to start a cycle of paying it forward, an ever-longer chain of people doing something nice for someone else with no expectations or strings attached. Suggest that the person you helped do the same for another person, or even for more than one person. People have paid the toll for the next five drivers in line at a bridge or toll road; others have anonymously paid off strangers' lay-away charges during the holidays. The possibilities are limitless, and they don't have to cost a lot of money.

After the horrible murders of teachers and elementary school children in Newtown, Conn., late last year, NBC News reporter Ann Curry sparked a movement to encourage people to carry out 26 acts of kindness, one for each of the victims. People enthusiastically embraced this simple way of not only honoring the victims of a senseless killing spree, but also as a way to do something positive and make the world a better place. They are, in effect, paying it forward. Many also used this as an opportunity to teach their children to pay it forward, by creating and carrying out their own acts of kindness.

The news and Internet are filled with stories of abuse, suffering, killings and people who just don't care. A single random act of kindness won't change the world, but maybe, just maybe, it will brighten the day of someone else. Maybe an unexpected act of kindness will make somebody decide to pay it forward, too. I will never know whether the young man with the roses will pay it forward. I hope he will.

At the very least, my little act of kindness brightened this young man's day, and most likely the store clerk's, too. As someone posted on Facebook, " [I] still find myself being more kind, patient and tolerant on a daily basis. Those first 26 acts of kindness changed my life. I needed this to realize there is still so much good inside me and in the world."

It feels good to know that I fulfilled my pledge to the man who paid for my groceries. And now I'm on the lookout for more little ways to help. There is no downside to this. Even if your kindness isn't appreciated, you should feel good.