Yesterday I was the benefit of a random act of kindness from a stranger who went out of his way to help me when he had no need or reason to. Today, coincidentally enough, is the sixth #PayItForward Day in the UK, an annual event which encourages people to make three acts of kindness during the day.
Pay It Forward is a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde, subsequently made into a film starring Kevin Spacey and Haley Joel Osment. The principle of ‘paying it forward’ is that the recipient of a favour, rather than simply repaying it, instead does a favour for three other people, creating a groundswell of goodwill that makes the world a better place.*
So, anyway, me. I was supposed to be travelling by train in to London but when I arrived at the station by taxi I discovered that an incident meant there were no London-bound trains. I was scratching my head trying to decide what to do when a chap named Matt – I never did find out his last name – pulled up beside me, wound down his window, said he was going to drive to Reading to pick up a train from there and would that be of any help to me?
He didn’t need to stop. He could have just kept on driving. But he didn’t. Instead he saved me no small amount of time and aggravation by doing me a favour that didn’t cost him anything but equally didn’t benefit him at all, other than having half an hour of amicable small talk with a stranger to pass the time and bemoan the state of the trains/the M4/most things about the UK.
It was a lovely reminder that, for all we bemoan how impersonal and selfish people are these days, there is still space for small gestures of decency and generosity that cost little but mean a lot.
While I was subsequently standing on the train in to Paddington, I started to think about what I can do personally and how I can use this as a lesson for the kids. I probably won’t advise them to start offering or accepting lifts from grown men they don’t know(!) but – in the same way we try to teach them that Christmas is as much about the giving of presents as receiving – that doing someone a favour without the prospect of any personal gain other than a warm, fuzzy feeling inside is something to be encouraged. It’s part of being a civilised human being.
Just this last weekend we’ve had the London Marathon, one of the great examples of thousands of people raising money for worthwhile causes. And today we have #PayItForward Day. (You can find out more about it on their website, incidentally.)
Paying it forward doesn’t have to be a grand gesture such as running 26-plus miles for charity. It can be something quite small – it just needs to be meaningful to the recipient of the favour. If that encourages them to be more predisposed to do a favour for someone else – well, job done.
And while we may not have time to do anything specific today for #PayItForward Day, random acts of kindness don’t need to be restricted to one day a year, right? Every day is a good day to pay it forward. I’d like to get our kids to do plan to do three things over the bank holiday weekend, even if the starting point is to do something to make life easier for their overworked mum.
So that’s us. But what will you do?
* We’ll just gloss over the fact that the central character’s final act of paying it forward results in his death, okay?
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