Pay It Forward

Yesterday was a day of Indian Summer in Boston and I was on a quest to be outside as long as possible.  The farmer’s market was bustling, the sun was shining and the breeze was blowing.  In the midst of my bustling and exuberant energy I left my wallet behind when I stopped back at my house for lunch.  This meant that by the time I got to Harvard Square to sit with tea and read, I had no money for tea.  Ugh goes the text as I reach out to a couple of friends of the misfortune that followed me that day.  Then I realized that I knew a friend who may know a friend who works in the exact cafe that I had planned to visit.  The crowd was all a buzz as is often the case in Harvard Square.  Just as luck would have it that person was working.  I sheepishly go up to her, mention my friend’s name and she asks what I would like.  YES goes the text!  Then a twinge of shame came across me.  “But I don’t even have a dollar for the tip jar” I thought.  My friend writes back “get them next time.”   As I was walking home through the piles of orange and brown leaves on the ground of Harvard Yard gratitude was radiating through my soul as bright as the sun was shining.  Something so simple, a cup of tea, costing less than $3 was the thing that made my frown turn upside down.  The written words from my IPhone came to me “get them next time” and the above movie came to mind.  Paying it forward is a concept that I speak about often in my work with my clients.  A concept widely embraced by 12 step philosophy in their announcement that their meetings are there for the newcomer.  People who are sober continue to attend meetings so that they can pay on the message of “experience, strength and hope” to others.  But for me, I am a doer.  I am not often on the end of asking for help although these days the Universe is giving me opportunities, even small ones, to ask for a lending hand.  It’s a new place to be.  An apology often comes with the question “can you…. do you mind….will you….” So the Universe keeps handing me opportunities.

My difficulty in asking for help goes far and deep.  My story is not all that different from most.  Someone analyzing it could put it down to being the oldest child or to other psycho-social explanations but it really has a global connection as well.  Here in the US of A we have been socialized to be individualistic.  Our crowning glory is that we are a sovereign nation.  We are the country that helps others but we don’t need help ourselves.  At least that is the false message that gets perpetuated. The South African society is built around the philosophy of “Umbutu” which translates into “human kindness.”  Umbutu is a world view which states that the success of one person depends intimately on the success of the whole community. I have also personally experienced Ireland to be a place where taking care of the whole is very much a part of the culture. While other countries such as South Africa or Ireland uphold a more communal way of living, the US upholds “The American dream.”  The American Dream is based upon financial success and perpetuates the other false notion that if you work long and hard enough you will gain success.  The central focus is on wealth rather than spiritual connection.  In our culture goodness and kindness have been at odds with creating financial success.  The attitude has always been that if you are focused on helping others, you must let go of the fact that you will in anyway be able to help yourself.  This message is perpetuated in some helping fields.  In my experience, the field of social work is representative of this notion.  It seems to be a field where people often feel disempowered but their job is to in turn empower others.   Kind of ironic, huh?  This is just part and parcel of our culture.  You either help others or you help yourself.  You either eat or be eaten.  Very primitive and ruthless.  But are we just animalistic creatures driven to compete and win?  Or underneath it all are we really just yearning to get along?

Human beings are social beings.  We are meant to be in community.  We thrive when we are connected to others.  Our ability to have hope for the future increases.  Research in the area of positive psychology states that the strongest way to increase your happiness quota is to do something for someone.  Altruistic acts of kindness promote the feeling of goodness in the world which in turn brings more goodness.  The act of receiving that cup of tea was probably not much at all to that woman who gave it to me.  For me in that moment, it felt like everything.  It allowed me the opportunity to not only relax in Harvard Square but to be able to practice the gift of receiving.  This is a practice for me and yesterday it felt really good.  Giving is not just for the receiver but it is for the giver as well.  While Umbutu is not a philosophy that American culture is built on, it is a philosophy that is greatly needed.  We see little pockets of it sprout up when a tragedy, such as 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombing, occur.  Shortly thereafter this ends up dying down only to be sprout up again when another tragedy occurs.  If we are ever going to stop the tragedies from happening we need to stop focusing on getting rid of the bad people and instead looking at opening up our hearts on a regular basis towards our community.  More consciousness raising businesses are being formed and are thriving. Donation based yoga studios are being to open across the country.  In my community in Somerville, MA there is a thriving community of local business owners and a population of people who support them.  Instead of seeing people as competitors, what might it be like to see them as part of your community? Instead of trying to get rid of them, we could learn how to support them and in turn they feel safe enough to support right back.  Until we learn how to be more loving and kind will the world become a safer place.

So I ask you, how will you Pay it Forward today?  What can you do to promote goodness in the world?  It takes just one small act to shift energy.  Hold a door open for someone, let them cut in front of you in traffic, or simply say hello and smile.  These small acts add up to social change.  Be the change you want to see in the world!



  1. Braver, Stronger, Smarter - Your Whole Healing on December 2, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    […] life force, halfway.  This also means that we can not do it ourselves.  In our recent chat Pay It Forwardwe talked about the focus in the US on individualism.  I shared with you all that I think that this […]

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