Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Paying It Forward

I had no idea when I started to write this how deep the subject went. The concept (and movie) happened to pop into my head first thing this morning as I woke up. "Pay It Forward" the movie came out in 2000. That I knew. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to any of you, if for no other reason than it encapsulates an excellent philosophy. Instead of paying a favor back to the person who did you the kindness, the movie provokes you to instead "pay it forward" to someone else, requesting that they do the same, ad infinitum. On just a tit for tat level, the benefit is obvious. Instead of one good deed returning another, that one deed creates an unending chain of good deeds. If our society accepted paying it forward as a general behavior, the results would be pretty mind-blowing.

I simplified the concept a bit. The movie's philosophy actually calls for a geometric favor growth instead of a linear progression. When paying one favor forward, you are called to perform three favors for others as payment, requesting the same from each payee. In a very short time one favor would become a massive explosion of help for others. One becomes three, becomes nine, becomes 27, 81, 243, 729, 2187, etc... In this paradigm one favor payed forward creates a web big enough to benefit everyone on the planet.

Now here's what I didn't know. The movie was based on a book of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde. She's since created a charitable foundation called The Pay It Forward Foundation, which endeavors to instill in school children the desire to create positive change in the world by creating their own ways of paying it forward.

And the concept of "paying it forward" isn't new to Ms. Hyde. Benjamin Franklin first espoused the philosophy in a letter to Benjamin Webb. He said:

I do not pretend to give such a Sum; 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, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.
Other writers since, from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Heinlein, to Spider Robinson have propagated the philosophy. It's in fact a widely respected philanthropic concept, referred to most commonly as "generalized reciprocity."

Of course for paying it forward to have it's greatest impact, for favor chains to propagate infinitely, the practice needs to enjoy universal acceptance. In the meantime, "paying it forward" still confers a far larger benefit to society than "paying it back." And as more and more people begin accepting and internalizing the philosophy, the more it becomes a part of societal practice. Starting small is the only way to grow. So here's my version of "pay it forward", designed to grow acceptance of the philosophy in an environment lacking universal knowledge of the practice.

Whenever a favor is conferred on you, pay that favor back to its original "deeder", and also pay it forward to one other person, requesting that they do the same. This way, if the original deeder isn't familiar with the philosophy, or isn't accepting of its tenets, they don't feel slighted. At the same time a favor chain is created, which propagates not only the original deed, but also the philosophy itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment