Pay it Forward

In the movie with the same title, “Pay if Forward,” the hero character, an 11-year-old boy, starts a Goodwill movement on the idea of repaying good deeds forward to others instead of paying them back to the original benefactor. In 2001, when this movie came out, it created a positive vibe among many people and built strong awareness of the idea. You see, when you pay it forward, you are expanding the reach of one good deed to impact many more people beyond the original benefactor or receiver. You create a pyramid effect across society within many layers of beneficiaries, thus a multiplier effect that 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 a domino effect of helping and supporting others in society, maintaining the positive flow of none-stop acts of generosity and goodwill 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 payback 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.

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. Humans have that programming inside of them, at different levels, to offer a helping hand when faced with a situation where a fellow human genuinely needs help.  Throughout history and across all cultures, religions, and civilizations, giving to the needy or helping others is a critical social pillar in any society.  Islam, like all other civilizations, realized that from the start, and it ensured that giving to charity is one of the main five pillars of the religion, making ZAKAT (charity) an obligatory requirement for 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 for the wellbeing of our society.

Even today, in some modern self-development books, there is always an emphasis on the value of helping and giving out to others, as it would create a positive impact. Its “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 helps us open our eyes to what is happening around us 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 know they desperately need it. This act connects us to our souls and takes us away from our daily materialistic lifestyles to most people.

Below are some ideas on helping others that I put together after talking to many people, which I am trying to adapt to myself. The trick is to focus on continuity and not quantity, as it is much better to give little all the time vs. giving a lot once or twice and go beyond just paying money to the needy on the streets or your favorite charity organization.

  • Make it a habit to dedicate a fixed amount/percentage of any income towards helping others or charity.  This income could be your monthly salary, bonus, etc., like assisting needy families, you know, your favorite charity, buying a blanket, and giving them away to low-income families in winter; the list 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 continuously 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 whenever you want to treat yourself to 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 (a gift) to someone who probably needed it more.
  • Family comes first. You will be surprised to know that you will have some close or distant relatives 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, so they don’t know who you are and don’t want to make them feel bad or embarrassed or hurt their sense of pride.
  • It’s not always about the money. We are all busy, but did you ever consider donating your time? 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 fantastic. You can also volunteer with the local schools and give free soft skills or career planning ideas/training 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 for the workplace; some colleagues initiated a similar idea where we collect clothes and canned food from everyone, and by the end of each month, a group of volunteered employees among us go out to visit the low-income families and give out the items we collected.  This is one of my favorite stories. A group of German artists is creating an art event in a city in Germany. With the money they are making, they are going to the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, buying a big bus, and creating a mobile library unit. They figured with all the war and the destruction it carries; those kids would miss out on the most important thing in their lives that can help them have a better future: education. The artist themselves are on those buses participating in teaching 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 the issue of having ordered/cooked too much food that goes beyond the family’s needs. Well, of course, you can keep it for the following day, but sometimes you get a family member saying they do not like to eat leftover food. I would suggest the following: instead of going into this debate in 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. Many charity organizations will come to collect all the extra food, repack it and distribute it to the needy.  Also, why not arrange with the neighbors in your neighborhood or the apartment building 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-buyers to take their needs? It could be the city garbage collector guy (and we all know how low they are paid) or any other person who is hungry and happens to be passing by.

The link between paying it forward and giving to the needy impacts the process and increases the number of beneficiaries faster. However, giving to the needy is an enriching experience, especially when made from the heart. So make it a habit, add one more reminder to your smartphone (on top of all your TO-DO list) and let it say on 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”.

Finally, remind yourself of the famous HADEETH by prophet Mohammed Peace Be Upon him, who said, “The wealth of a man never diminishes by giving to the needy.”

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