In the movie with the same title “Pay if Forward” the hero character, an 11 year old boy, started a Good-Will movement on the idea of repaying good deeds forward to others instead of paying it back to the original benefactor. Back in 2001, when this movie came out, it was able to create a positive vibe among lots of people and it built strong awareness on the idea. You see, when you pay it forward you are actually expanding the reach of one good deed to impact many more people, beyond the original benefactor or receiver, as it creates a pyramid affect across society within many layers of beneficiaries, and thus a multiplied affect, which might also go back to the original benefactor. Hence, good deeds never go to waste. Paying it forward is a creative way of converting favors from others into an actual domino effect of help and support others in society, maintaining the positive flow of none-stop acts of generosity and good-will among all its members. It goes like this, when you offer someone help or you lend someone a hand, you tell them that you don’t want them to pay you back and that your pay back is that help someone else in need, paying it forward not back, and they have to tell that person whom they are helping the same, and so on and so forth.
The idea of giving or helping others in general without any expectation of payback is of course something rooted so deep into human history and heritage, as all people have that sense inside of them, at different levels, to offer a helping hand when they are faced with a situation where a fellow human is in real and genuine need for help. Throughout history and across all cultures, religions and civilizations, the idea of giving to the needy or helping others, is a critical social pillar in any society. In Islam, like all other civilizations, it realized that from the start and it made sure that giving to charity is one of the main five pillars of the religion, making ZAKAT (charity) an obligatory requirement on all Muslims. I will not go into the religious or social added values of charity and giving as we all know it and know that it is good for us (on all levels) and good for the wellbeing of our society at a large.
Even today, in some major modern self development books, there is always an emphasis on the value of helping and giving out to others, as it that would create a positive impact and it’s “karma” will pay you back generously. Needless to say that beyond the aftermath of being paid back somehow (as no good deed goes unnoticed) giving out to others in need actually helps us open our eyes to what is going around us in our society and make us think of others who are less fortunate. As nothing beats the joy and happiness you put on someone else’s face when you lend them a hand you knew they desperately needed it. This connects us to our souls and takes us away from our daily materialistic life styles, to most people at least.
Below are some ideas on helping or lending hands in general that I put together after talking to many people, of which I am trying to adapt to some myself. The trick is to focus on continuity and not on quantity, as it is much better to give little all the time, vs. giving a lot once or twice only, and to go beyond just paying money to the needy on the streets or to your favorite charity organization.
- Make it a habit to dedicate fixed amount/percentage of any income you make towards helping others or charity. This could be your monthly salary, bonus, etc. like helping needy families you know, your favorite charity, buying blanket and giving them away to poor families in winter, the last can go on and on. In Islam, we are asked to give out 2.5% as ZAKAT, so a friend of mine thought, why not make it a habit to give out 2.5% of any income he makes, and make it a rule in his life. Personally I loved the idea, as it enforces the habit and makes you have a monthly goal/plan to do that is beyond your personal needs and aspirations.
- Don’t just give out your old clothes. Try this, set a fixed number of items you have and always maintain that number. For example, if you have 15 pairs of shoes, make sure they remain fifteen, so if you buy a new one, you must get one out of charity. Ladies, fifteen is just a number I used as an example, so you can have as many more as you want. The point is to have a fixed number and commit to it. This is another idea that also helps make giving a habit and makes you think of others every time you want to treat yourself for a new shoe (or anything else for that matter). The item that you will give out might not be old or worn out, on the contrary, they will most likely be in very good condition, so it’s like you are picking one of your favorite items to give it out as (gift) to someone who probably needed it more.
- Family comes first. You will be surprised to know that you will have some relatives, close or distant, who qualify for the help, and if so, you need to help them first as they are family. In this case, you need to be extra discrete just so they don’t know who you are, and you don’t want to make them feel bad or embarrassed, or hurt their sense of pride.
- It’s not always about the money. I know we are all busy, but did you ever think of donating one hour a month for example to volunteer at a children’s hospital, or go out and visit the poorest parts of your town and help distribute food and clothes with one of the community charities? Try it, the feeling is amazing. You can also volunteer with the local schools and give free soft skills or career planning ideas/trainings to high school kids who actually need such training so much for their future lives and they don’t even know it, nor is the school training them on it. Another example, at our workplace, some colleagues initiated a similar idea where we are collecting clothes and canned food from everyone and by end of each month, a group volunteered employees among us, go out to visit the poor families and give out the items we collected. This is one of my favorite stories. A group of German artists are creating an art event in some city in Germany, and with the money they are making, they are going to the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, buy a big buss, and created a mobile library unit. They figured with all the war and the destruction it carries, those kids will miss out on the most important thing in their lives that can help them have a better future, and that is education. The artist themselves are on those busses participating in the teaching of these kids. Such a noble and selfless act that you cannot but admire the effort and thinking behind it.
- What to do with the extra food? This is a never ending story, and most of us face this issue of having ordered/cooked too much food that gets beyond the need of the family. Well, of course you can keep it for the following day or so, but sometimes you get a family member who said that he/she does not like to eat leftover food. I would suggest the following: instead of going into this debate from the first place, make it a habit to give away the extra food, especially when it is extra food after a party or a feast. There are lots of charity organizations that will come collect all the extra food, repack it and distribute it to the needy. Also, why not arrange with the neighbors at your neighborhood or at the apartment building that you live in to have a big commercial fridge at the door, and all pitch in to put their extra good food there for pass-byers to take their need? It could the city garbage collector guy (and we all know how horribly paid these guys are) or it could be any other person who is hungry and happens to be passing by.
The link between paying it forward and the general act of giving to the needy is what creates the magnified impact to the process and increase the number of beneficiaries faster. However, in all cases, the act of giving to the needy is an enriching experience all by itself, especially when it is made from the heart… so make it a habit, add one more reminder into your smartphone (on top of all your TO-DO list) and let it say at the first day of the month for example “salary is in the account, don’t forget to take out 2.5% to help others who don’t have a salary”. One final note, always remember the famous HADEETH by prophet Mohammed Peace Be Upon him saying “The wealth of a man never diminishes by giving to the needy”.