Kindness Matters: A History Of Paying It Forward

I love the holidays. I’ve never been given a reason not to. For me, it’s not about the gifts I receive, the ugly sweater parties I attend, or the Black Friday steals I come home with (though I’ll admit all of those components add to the fun). My favorite part about the holidays is the way people’s attitudes change; everyone becomes a better version of themselves. The Christmas spirit is like a winter cold you can’t help but catch—minus the snotty nose, of course.

People become human—opening doors for strangers, donating extra change to bell ringers, and complimenting passersby on the street. Amidst the terrorism, shootings, and natural disasters highlighted in the media lately, this kindness reminds me of all the good in the world—the things we forget to be thankful for, the people who change our lives.

[gdlr_quote align=”center” ]My favorite part about the holidays is the way people’s attitudes change; everyone becomes a better version of themselves.[/gdlr_quote]

Every time I’m gifted with kindness, I’m surprised at the effect it has on me—no matter how small the gesture. And once it starts, the kindness doesn’t stop. These small gestures turn into random acts of kindness that people continue to pay forward. Some people set a larger goal for their day than to just get through it. That’s why it’s rare that you pay for your own drink in the Starbucks drive-through line.

It’s with these warm and fuzzy feelings that I was inspired to seek out stories of random acts of kindness and share them with you. But first, I wondered, who came up with this genius idea?

History of Paying It Forward

Despite what some might assume, the idea of paying it forward dates back long before Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book, Paying It Forward, was ever published; Benjamin Franklin came up with the idea in 1784. In a letter to a friend who owed him money, Franklin asked the friend to lend the same amount to “another honest man in similar distress.”

“This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money,” he wrote. “I am not rich enough to afford much in good works, and so am obliged to be cunning and make the most of little.” (And that, my friends, is how you get on the $100 bill).

By 1951, the idea about paying forward was popularized, thanks to a book called Between Planets by Robert Heinlein. He wrote, “We cannot adequately pay back the dead heroes and philosophers and frontiersmen, even our immediate ancestors; but we can pay forward to those in need of a banknote, a confirmation, a true idea to steady their judgment, sustain a free society in which to flourish.”

Hyde’s book, Paying It Forward, was published in 1999, and the next year,  Warner Bros. produced a film based on it. This ignited the fire of kindness. The same year, the Pay It Forward Foundation was established, and just a short year later, Pay It Forward became an official day. Today, the Heinlein Society—a humanitarian organization created in honor of Robert Heinlein—operates on the pay it forward philosophy.

Hope in Days of Darkness

My intent with this series is not to just share all the warm, fuzzy stories that make our hearts flutter. It’s a simple reminder to keep our eyes open for the good in the world. This week, as you reflect on the attacks in Paris and Beirut, the Planned Parenthood shootings, the San Bernardino massacre, and the flooding in Chennai, take a moment to be thankful for all the people in the world whose mission is to do good. Then tune in next week for my first feature in the pay it forward series.

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