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Have you seen the movie “Pay it Forward”? It’s a gorgeous film starring Haley Joel Osment (the little kid from The Sixth Sense who saw dead people), Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey.  I’m sure it started as just an ordinary little B grade movie but has reached almost cult status with the storyline being so extraordinarily simple but good.

It’s about a young boy (Osment) who lives with his dysfunctional alcoholic mother (Hunt) and his relationship with his emotionally & physically damaged teacher (Spacey)… When he gets set an assignment at school to change the world, he thinks up a simple experiment whereby you do something good for 3 people.  You tell them they can’t pay it back, they can only pay it forward, so those three people have to somehow do something good for 3 other people, making 9 so far…. those 9 pay it forward to another 3 each = 27 and so on and so on…. You get the drift…

It started a bit of a revolution in some ways with people around the world realising that we could honestly make a difference to our fellow man by adopting these principles in everyday life.  I mean, it’s a simple philosophy isn’t it? It’s not about giving money, it’s about giving something that a person really needs… ie.. teaching someone how to cook low budget meals so they can feed their family or maybe sitting with a stranger who is waiting at a hospital for news of a loved one, scared and all alone… Maybe it does involve money… Perhaps you decided to sponsor someone with a particular talent to study it further.. or paying the extra $5 for a stranger at the supermarket who is just short of their grocery money.

It can be big or small.. but it must be something that will make a difference, either in the short term or for life.  How many times have you encountered kindness from those around you? I’ve been very fortunate in my life with friends, family and strangers having gone above and beyond to help me at times when I needed it most.  I can never thank them enough or repay their kindness in a way I would like to (unless that lotto win finally comes to fruition).  What I can do is pay it forward.

I can take late night phone calls from people who are struggling with issues and offer emotional support.  I can organise a fund raiser for a family who have been hit by hard times.  I can make a slideshow tribute for a family who are struggling to deal with the death of a child or loved one.  I can offer a bed to someone who needs a few days away from the everyday to get back to their usual self.  There are so many ways we can pay things forward.

There is an organisation in Australia called  Wake Up Sydney who dedicate themselves to finding ways to encourage people to  pay it forward.  One of the things I love the most is they offer business cards which you can leave somewhere where you have shown kindness, encouraging the recipient to pass it on to someone else.  They say on their website….. “Now is the time for the tribes of Sydney to gather, collaborate, be entertained and accelerate this revolution toward a more kind, conscious and sustainable world.”

What a fantastic attitude to have.  I know a lot of people think that one person can’t fix the world so why try but as one person we can perhaps fix one other person’s world and maybe don’t even realise it.  That person may then go on to fix a thousand people’s worlds.  I’ve spoken about this before when wondering if you’ve made someone else’s a wonderful life.  The fact is we may not always know what effect our kindness has had on another person’s life and that doesn’t matter.  What matters is we showed kindness.  If every person in the world showed one random act of kindness everyday, we would live in a much better place. Kindness would become a habit.

There was also a thing run by a local radio station in Geelong where they would ask you, if you could, to offer to pay for someones meal at a drive through.. So you go to Maccas, pay at the window and say to the cashier, hey I’m going to pay for that car 2 cars back as well… so when they get to the window, they can say, someone has paid for your meal.  What a thrill to receive.  I know it’s probably only a small thing (unless their order was for Gilbert Grape’s mum) but I’m sure it would put the hugest smile on someone’s face.  (Yes I know we probably shouldn’t be promoting junk food but sometimes, convenience is as important as nutrition. ) It was done wholely and solely to make someone’s day for no particular reason.

You can’t always know what is happening in a person’s life to make them act the way they do.  Are they trying to cut in front of you in traffic because they have a loved one in hospital hanging on by a thread and they are rushing to see them?  Are they short in their grocery money because they have had to pay for their loved ones medication?  Are they living homeless in the street because their whole family was wiped out in an accident and they gave up on life?  By not judging, but merely offering a kind word or deed, perhaps their life will be changed forever for the better.  Fact is, the guy trying to cut in front of you may just be a moron who is a careless driver but you don’t know that.  The woman short in her grocery money may have spent all her money on the pokies but can you make that call? The homeless guy on the street may have spent his whole life drinking for no reason but unless you know his life, can you make that judgement?

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I long for the days when we could walk up the street and have every second person say hello, whether they knew you or not.  The days when people would stop in the street when a funeral passed them by, bowing their heads in respect.  A time when we belonged to a community whether we liked it or not.  I lived in a small town most of my early life and I sometimes really resented the fact that everyone knew everyone else’s business.  When my daughter died, the comfort I got from that same small town was amazing.  One of their own daughters (me) was suffering so the town banded together to try to help.  I belonged. That meant the world.

Instead of bemoaning a world long since gone, we can each try to recreate the same feeling of belonging we once knew.  We can reach out a hand of kindness to another person to make them feel less alone.  We can offer a kind word to a stranger in the street to put a smile on their face.. I guarantee that smile will be passed on to someone else that same day. That’s what happens with smiles.. They are contagious.  Can you help but smile at someone who smiles at your with genuine happiness in their eyes? I know I can’t.

We can make sure we know our neighbours.  I’m not talking about living in their pockets but simply knowing a bit about them and keeping an eye out for them.  Offering to take their mail in if they are away.  You’re walking to your letterbox.. is the extra 5 metres going to kill you?  If you have old magazines, check with an old folks home to see if they could use them.  I’m sure the residents would love to be able to fill their long days with a bit of mindless reading that we all love doing occasionally.  Shove a few cuttings from plants in old pots, strike them and then leave them out the front with a sign saying, “sharing mother nature’s beauty – please take one”… Join Freecycle and give your clutter to people who really need it rather than throwing it in the bin or taking it to the tip.  Someone is helped and the environment says a big thank you.. It’s a win win situation!

Life is what we make of it.  If you feel you live in an unfriendly town, smile at everyone.. Eventually they’ll start to smile back. When you walk down the street, say hello to people passing by.. They generally HAVE to acknowledge you, even if just out of embarrassment.  When you’re standing in line at the supermarket, make a trivial comment about the weather or the queue, be it long or short.  The person next to you may be happy to have that small conversation, however banal.  Organise a street garage sale with the neighbours who you’ve started to say hi to.   If you take a step into the community, someone will be eager to step alongside you.

If we all put in what we wanted to get out of life, the world would be a perfect place.  Of course there are always those who will take more than they give..  and those who will go out of their way to hurt another person but they are the minority.   Most people are good decent human beings.   We’ve become a very solitary society though where we believe in the power of “I” so much, we’ve forgotten the strength of “we”.

I challenge you all today to go and do one random act of kindness every day for a week, whether it be a smile, a kind word or a good deed.  Do it because you WANT to do it, not for what you’ll get back.  See how you feel afterwards.  Please let me know how you get on.  I hope you’ll find after a week that you want to keep it going.

Happy Giving…. Livvy 🙂

random act of kindness