Have you ever had the shocking, enlightening experience of having a stranger do a kind deed toward you for no reason at all? The first time it happened to me, I didn’t know what to think. I was 17 and driving to school in the morning during a snowstorm, and I got one tire of my little Saturn stuck just far enough in the snow that I couldn’t make the thing budge. So there I was, parked still and on the verge of tears because I didn’t want to call my mother and admit I was stuck in the snow, when a Jeep rolled up behind me and out crawled so many giant teenaged boys I thought I must have hit my head. But they hauled out shovels and snow scrapers and dug my tires and bumper out, and then all of them rocked the little car free. A mother of one of the boys waved at me as I stared in total shock, and then they all clamored back into their clown-car-ish Jeep and moved along without a word. And man, did that experience teach me something valuable about giving.
I’ve blogged a few times in my life about paying it forward. I’m a firm believer in the practice because I believe if we all thought about others a few times a day above ourselves, the world would begin to function at a different, less selfish pace.
Paying it forward is not about figuring out who deserves your charity, or handing money to a charity organization and trusting that the organization will disperse the funds in a selfless way. It’s about giving without judging. It’s about giving of your own, without expecting a return.
During this holiday season, perhaps you can donate some of your time, energy, or money to others. There’s no wrong way to do it, as long as you do it with the mindset that the deed is for others, and not self-serving. Here are ten ways to pay it forward to get you started.
- Help someone who is struggling. Maybe you’ll see someone with a flat tire and help them change it. Maybe you’ll scrape ice off windshield wipers for a person who has no gloves. Maybe you’ll see somebody with more children than hands who is struggling to load groceries in his or her car and you can help them tetris it all in.
- Make a purchase. Schools are always in need of various supplies, and so are waiting rooms at hospitals, etc. Not all of us have this kind of giving in our budget, but who says the local clinic doesn’t need that stack of old kids’ books you have sitting in a box somewhere?
- Make a smaller purchase. Emily Faith and I spend a lot of time in drive-thru coffee lanes. Years ago, Emily decided to purchase the coffee for the person behind her. Now, it’s a common thing: we pay for the coffee of the person behind us. And sometimes they pay it forward to the next person in line, and it will go on so long that the next time we drive through, whaddya know? Free coffee. Which we buy for the next person, too.
- Spend a little extra time. For anyone who has relatives living in a retirement center of any time, I recommend you watch the movie Away From Her, and then decide if an hour out of your day/week is really too much to fit into your busy, busy schedule. Maybe you know someone in a hospital, or stuck at home, or so busy raising little children they never get a moment to relax. Look at these people and see where you have room in your life to help them out. An hour of your time is sometimes more valuable than any holiday gift you can buy.
- Volunteer. Hospitals always need volunteers, and so do schools and charity organizations and donation centers. In an area like mine, where flood-ravaged High River, Alberta is still just struggling to keep spirits high. There are millions of volunteer opportunities anywhere you go, so just find someone in charge and ask.
- Recycle and reduce. Do you have stacks and stacks of children’s drawings laying around your house like I do? Or maybe old magazines you haven’t had the chance to throw away yet? WRAPPING PAPER. Have the kids wrap their gifts in drawings they made to save your eco-footprint and hand the younger generation a better planet on which to live.
- “See a need, fill a need.” – Pixar’s Robots. Make a commitment. Have you wondered why your neighbor hasn’t straightened out their crooked mailbox in five years? Ask them if you can repair it for them. Maybe a neighbor has a spouse who works out of town and needs help keeping the lawn mowed or the driveway shoveled.
- Yield. You’d be amazed how grateful people are when you let them turn in front of you instead of scrambling through the stop sign first. Or if you end up in a standoff in front of a parking space, give it up. After all, if you sit in a chair for a living like I do, the extra block of walking distance won’t kill you. Yield in the store or malls, too. If the lady behind you is only buying a loaf of bread and a 12 pack of ginger ale, are you really in such a rush that you can’t wait for them to cut in ahead of your four-week supply of dinners and bathroom supplies?
- Be a little kinder. It’s hard to have disagreements with people. But disagreements are part of human life, and it wouldn’t hurt any of us to remember that even when we disagree, we owe our fellow human beings dignity and respect. If you have a grievance to raise with someone, see to it that you’re being rational and polite about it, and that your intentions are to help them, not hurt them.
- Talk about paying it forward. Encourage others to be giving as well. Help them understand the value of it. How good it makes you feel, how grateful people are. Many people begin a pattern of generosity out of the self-serving desire for expressed gratitude. But who cares? Sooner or later, they begin to see the positive changes around them and giving becomes a habit, rather than an ego-stroke.
Do you have habits of generosity and selflessness? Share in the comments how you’ve paid it forward! Go ahead and brag – you deserve it!
Nola Sarina is an author, mother, and lover of romance in all its beautiful forms. Check out her spicy Crimson Romance title, (co-authored with Emily Faith) Wild Hyacinthe, and her Vesper novellas on Amazon. She loves to be stalked on Facebook and Twitter.