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Ripples of goodness: The Pay It Forward effect in action

by P.S. Wasu
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Through his nuanced storytelling, the author reveals how a single act of kindness ignites a chain reaction of good deeds, transforming many by the magic of ‘paying it forward.’

In the 1990s, I worked as a creative consultant at a Delhi-based advertising agency. During that time, the agency pitched its services to a prominent bank. Once the initial presentation was approved, our agency boss, Moti Lal (name changed), and I were summoned for a final interview with the managing director. 

The MD, a Sikh gentleman, impeccably dressed in a suit and a finely wrapped turban, made a striking impression on us. Following extensive discussions, the MD entrusted us with the project, a moment that flooded us with immense joy. 

Sensing an opportunity, Moti Lal, somewhat cautiously, made a polite request. At the time, a common concern within agencies was the extended delays in client payments, often stretching up to 60 or even 75 days. Moti Lal expressed gratitude for the selection of the agency and said he would appreciate it very much if the bank would clear the agency bills within 30 days of submission.

The sweet surprise

The MD’s reaction was unexpected. Furrowing his brow, he stared at us a bit sternly, if not menacingly, leaving us in a state of trepidation. After a pause that seemed interminable, he spoke firmly and decisively, stating, “If you do not collect your cheque within three days of submitting the bill, I will time-bar it, and your payment will be forfeited.”

This surprising response, wrapped in a sweetly stringent stance, left us startled and overwhelmingly delighted. Our initial trepidation gave way to euphoria. Thoroughly humbled, we expressed our gratitude profusely before exiting his office. As we left the MD’s office, feeling triumphant and with a definite spring to our feet, Moti Lal couldn’t contain his admiration, exclaiming, “What a man!”

Our subsequent meeting with the MD’s personal assistant involved ironing out administrative details. When we recounted the MD’s delightful threat to withhold payment if we didn’t collect the cheque within three days, the PA smiled and remarked, “I’m not surprised. This new MD of ours is very unconventional and stays perpetually in high spirits.”

During the car ride back to the agency, Moti Lal chuckled, remarking, “The fellow sure is an oddball but in a very endearing way!” For days afterward, we regaled anyone who would listen with the remarkable tale of our encounter with the maverick bank MD.

That’s the thing about kindness; it spreads outward, act to act, heart to heart, smile to smile, and hand to hand. 

Kindness is contagious

That is not the end of the story. There is a subplot to it, too. The next day Moti Lal’s secretary asked him for a 3-day leave as she wanted to take her family to the hills for a holiday. Moti Lal’s response surprised the secretary pleasantly. 

Moti Lal was uber-cool as he said, “I don’t think three days will be enough for you. Take an entire week off.”

I immediately realized this was the ripple effect of how the bank MD treated us a day earlier. Echoing the MD’s kindness, Moti Lal generously granted extended leave to his secretary. 

There is more to it. On the third day, Moti Lal’s driver asked for a company loan of Rs 20,000 as he wanted to repair his house in his village. Moti Lal’s response: “That may not be enough. Go take Rs 30,000.” The driver was left delightfully overwhelmed like Moti Lal and I were in the bank MD’s office.

I am sure the impact didn’t end there. It’s impossible to gauge precisely how Moti Lal’s kindness reverberated through his secretary and driver. Still, it’s reasonable to assume it sparked a similar chain of positive actions within their circles. Thus, the original encounter with the bank MD led to a series of events that exemplified the profound impact of kindness and its rippling effects.

A positive deed is like a stone thrown into a calm pond. When the stone hits the water, it creates ripples that expand outward, touching the entire surface. Similarly, a positive deed sets off a chain reaction of positive effects that can reach far beyond the initial action.

Firstly, the person who receives the positive deed might feel uplifted and encouraged. This positive experience can influence their mood, actions, and interactions with others. They might be inspired to pay it forward by helping someone else, thus extending the initial act’s impact.

Beyond the immediate effects, these gestures have far-reaching consequences. They inspire a culture of kindness and empathy, fostering connections and friendships that might not have otherwise existed. Ultimately, they create a cycle of positivity, encouraging a continuous flow of goodwill.

Photos: Unsplash

The seeds of kindness: A look back at the ‘Pay It Forward’ movement

Original Cinema Quad Poster; Movie Poster; Film Poster
We learn from this movie that “Like a dandelion puff carried on the wind, one act of kindness can float far and wide, taking root in others and blossoming into a field of goodness.”

by Navni Chawla

The concept of paying it forward is age-old, appearing in literary works from Ancient Greek comedies to Benjamin Franklin’s correspondences. 

In his 1841 essay Compensation, Ralph Waldo Emerson proposed that in the natural order, reciprocating benefits directly to those who provided them is challenging. Instead, the received benefits should be returned, matching each aspect – action, value, and contribution – to someone else. 

Emerson wrote: “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”

Instead of trying to return someone’s kindness directly, author Lily Hardy Hammond suggested a beautiful idea in her 1916 novel, In the Garden of Delight: Spread it to someone else. She even used the phrase we are familiar with now: “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.” 

This means that when someone shows you love, appreciation, or does something good for you, instead of feeling obligated to repay them directly, you pass on that positive energy by performing a kind act for someone else.

This beautiful sentiment flowered further in Catherine Ryan Hyde’s 1999 novel, Pay It Forward, in which a young character sparks a movement of kindness. Inspired by her own story, she even established a foundation dedicated to spreading good deeds worldwide. The concept captured hearts even more when the book became a critically acclaimed film in 2000, solidifying ‘pay it forward’ as a household phrase. This wave of kindness continues to flow with Pay It Forward Day, which has been celebrated annually on April 28 since 2007.

The movie Pay It Forward,  set in Las Vegas, chronicles young Trevor McKinney’s launch of the ‘pay it forward’ movement. It stars Haley Joel Osment as Trevor, Helen Hunt as his alcoholic single mother Arlene McKinney, and Kevin Spacey as his physically and emotionally scarred social studies teacher Eugene Simonet. 

Trevor sets a daring class project (assigned by his teacher Eugene, to put into action a plan that will change the world for the better): three acts of kindness, each recipient ‘paying it forward’ by doing good for three others. This simple chain reaction ignites a ripple of hope through his troubled Las Vegas community. 

The movie showcases the power of empathy and the unexpected consequences of even small acts of compassion, ultimately leaving you with a warm, hopeful feeling despite facing harsh realities. 

We learn from Trevor that “Like a dandelion puff carried on the wind, one act of kindness can float far and wide, taking root in others and blossoming into a field of goodness.”

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