Will You Pay It Forward? Seven Tips for Making a Difference

This past week I was shocked to read about two passengers on a flight who evidently started a fight over their different political views. The pilot went on a rant over the plane’s intercom taking the fighting passengers to task to defuse the situation. With all the divisiveness that seems to be going on right now, each of us ought to put a particular emphasis during the upcoming holiday to go out of our way to make life more rewarding for one another. And we need to learn to respect each other’s views whether we agree or not. We can learn to disagree without being disagreeable.

This last week my entire family was shocked when ordering dinner at a fairly expensive restaurant. A woman came up to my oldest son and handed him a $100-dollar bill and said to him, “I am paying for dinner for your family tonight. Please accept this.” Not really knowing what else to do, my son accepted her gift. Although he didn’t know her, he spent a few minutes getting acquainted. Soon he discovered that she was the mother of a young man that my son had flown overseas with. And yet, they had never met each other before. Needless to say, the whole event really stopped to make my younger children think. And thankfully they were appreciative.  

The notion of “paying it forward” was popularized by the movie of the same name that starred Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. In the movie a young boy takes it upon himself to do something for other people that they can’t do for themselves with the only request being that they likewise “pay it forward”—continuing the chain of good deeds and hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

Perhaps as we all make a conscious choice this time of year to look for opportunities to bless the lives of others, we can be the initiators of more good will in the world. Here are some suggestions for ways to spread good will to others.

1. Surprise someone. My assistant told me that just last week as she was having a pretty rough day, she ordered an orange juice at McDonalds. As she drove up to the window at the drive thru, the attendant told her to order whatever she wanted because the person in the car in front of her had paid for her breakfast. Such acts don’t always have to be about money, but doing something good for someone without their knowledge is very rewarding.

2. Express appreciation. Taking the time to notice someone doing something positive, and then expressing your appreciation to them about their performance or actions will make a difference to that person. They may not outwardly show appreciation, but it may make them more observant of the behavior of others and lead them to do for others what you did for them.

3. Look for opportunities. This tip is closely tied to the concept above. If you are not looking for opportunities to either do or say something nice for someone else, you will also miss an opportunity to make a positive difference. Being observant and deliberate in your actions will allow you to make a positive impact.

4. Give something away. Years ago when my children were young, I went and got a roll of ten dollar bills that we decided to give away. We wandered around in various places in stores and at the mall. I told my children that they could just look at people and then make the decision on their own who to give the money to. They just walked up and said to folks, “Here, I just wanted you to have this.” Then they would place a bill in their hand and run away. Whatever you give away, your time, friendship, service, kind words, if it is of value to you, it will be appreciated and will hopefully become of value to others.

5. Gift your presence. Sometimes just giving a person time or listening to them will brighten and lift other people. My father in the winter months used to pick the avocadoes off of our tree in the back yard in Southern California. Then he would have us put them in brown paper sacks and carry them as we accompanied him around the neighborhood passing out these delicious treats. It wasn’t the avocadoes we were giving away. They were really nothing more than an excuse to spend time talking and listening to the people we gave them to. His example ended creating reciprocal actions on the part of others who in turn came to visit bringing lemons, grapefruit, apples, and often cookies and cakes. What we give to others, they will often give back to us.

6. Offer praise. This doesn’t happen as often as it should because we may not notice the actions of others. Or, sometimes we also just get so busy or preoccupied that we don’t make the time to mention and acknowledge what others do for us. We just don’t say anything. Years ago, I vowed that I would try to say at least three positive things to each member of my family each day. The first day I attempted to reach the goal I said something positive to my wife about what a great dinner she had made. She looked at me in bewilderment and asked me, “Are you sick?” It was then I knew that I had a lot of work to do.

7. Express your love. This is hard for some people. I know because sometimes it is hard for me. Last week I lost one of my oldest childhood friends to a rare disease. I have known him for over 50 years. We had the type of relationship where we might not see each other for a couple of years, but when we met again, we just picked up where we had left off. He was a great person. Unfortunately, I found out that he had passed from a mutual friend, and I never knew even knew what he was going through. I did have the opportunity to express my feelings to his dear wife. But if I could have one more short minute with him, I would tell him that I love him. The people in our lives are precious gifts to us. I hope you will make the most of your time with them and let them know that they matter to you.

During this Thanksgiving holiday or anytime during the year, we could all do a better job of “paying it forward” and making an effort to create more unity, goodwill, and understanding of one another. I hope you will look for opportunities to do good this next week which will enrich the quality of your life and the lives of those around you.


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What people are saying

Robert Metzinger | November 21, 2016 | REPLY
Through my life I've had many friends and family that didn't seem to make an effort to connect with me. I would always be the one to call them, check-in, and coordinate us getting together. When we would get together we would enjoy the time together. But I would get frustrated from time to time that I had to make the effort. I wondered if they really even wanted to get together from their lack of effort. Through this time I got the opportunity to be part of their lives, be there for them, and to maintain our friendship. So you know what? I got over myself and my feelings. Instead I resolved to continue to make the effort because it was the right thing to do and I cared about them. It's not about getting what you give in return. It's that you gave and finding ways to be selfless. Happy Holidays!
John Stoker | November 21, 2016 | REPLY
Wonderful insight!!! Thanks for sharing. Have a wonderful holiday!! j