Rich Perry

STRENGTH & FOCUS: How to pay it forward

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Today’s focus will be on the idea and practice of paying it forward. Perhaps you remember the film “Pay It Forward” (2000) starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment. In the movie, the young character Trevor McKinney (Osment) is given an assignment by his teacher, Mr. Simonet (Spacey): to think of something that will change the world and put it into action. McKinney decides to “pay forward,” rather than paying back, good deeds to three people, during which he explains his actions and encourages the recipients to pay forward the random act of kindness unto three new individuals. As more people are impacted and continue to pass actions of generosity and kindness, the circle of influence grows much bigger than the middle school student could have ever imagined.

While the movie centers on three new acts of kindness, the idea of paying forward a good deed has been mentioned throughout the ages and even goes back to ancient times. More importantly, although the practice contains the word “pay,” it doesn’t necessarily require a monetary exchange. While some actions and deeds may involve money to some degree, it’s not a requirement. Many times these good deeds are simply that – good deeds. They can be simple and take many forms: a kind word to a co-worker, an act of generosity to a stranger, or sharing a meal with someone less fortunate.

I recently had the opportunity to pay it forward, and it was a truly humbling experience. Before telling this story, I would like to note that it is not my intention to seek attention or receive praise. In fact, this event happened weeks ago and I decided that posting it on social media would only cheapen the action because I believe that good deeds should be done for the sake of the deed itself and for the benefit of the recipient alone; essentially, we should give to give rather than giving to receive. Today, however, I decided to briefly tell this story in hopes that it may inspire you to do something nice for someone else.

As you may know, a few months ago, I was invited to be a co-author in “The Change” book series, co-produced by Jim Britt and Jim Lutes and featuring contributing authors from around the globe. Since the release of “The Change” No. 5 (the book my chapter is in), I’ve been busy setting up interviews, presentations, and book signings.

On this particular day, I was exiting a meeting from Barnes & Noble in Wilkes-Barre and passed a gentleman in the foyer asking an employee about a nearby place to eat. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, so I continued to my car. For whatever reason, I made the wrong turn leaving the parking lot and found myself taking the scenic route around the shopping center, which was when I noticed the man that I had just passed in the bookstore. Upon seeing him walking through the hot parking lot with a plastic bag in his hand, I finally snapped out of my self-imposed daze and remembered a few key words from the conversation I walked through moments earlier. The words “traveling,” “hungry,” and “cheap meal” came back to me consciously and I was able to put 2 + 2 together. Pulling off the road, I asked if I could help. The gentleman relayed his story, and although I didn’t have much money in my wallet, I happened to have a customer appreciation card for Outback Steakhouse, which is right there in the shopping center across from Barnes & Noble. After explaining the card, we shook hands, and parted ways.

To be honest, I felt good, but I didn’t feel great due to a nagging sensation that I should have done more. Though I was pressed for time, after a moment of back and forth deliberation, I came to the conclusion that whatever self-important activities were in my calendar, they could easily be pushed back 30 minutes, so I turned the car around and parked. Entering the restaurant, I approached the man and asked if I could join him for lunch. He seemed initially surprised, but happily accepted and we sat at the bar to order our meals.

What started out as an impromptu 30-minute lunch ended up being a two-hour conversation as he relayed his story of how he came to be on the road, where he was going, and the trials faced along the way. This man was extremely grateful, not just for the warm meal, but also because of the conversation we shared. Being a person of good nature himself, he regrettably stated that because he was traveling, he might never get an opportunity to repay me. I told him that I didn’t want anything in return and asked if he knew about paying it forward. The man told me that he’d never heard of it, so I took the opportunity to explain. He later confided in me that earlier that morning he experienced feelings of hopelessness and was ready to give up but that this single act – a meal and friendly conversation – had lifted his spirits and rejuvenated him to continue his journey. After offering final assistance, we parted ways.

Again, it is not my intention to take credit or be a hero because buying someone a meal is by no means heroic; it’s something that any good person would do for another. My sincere hope is that you find meaning in my story and realize that a simple act of generosity can go a long way and produce profound results. You can choose to pay it forward by whatever means are available and, remember, it doesn’t even have to involve money. Offer to mow your elderly neighbor’s lawn. Give a compliment to a stranger. Donate a morning/evening to help a community organization or charity. These are simple things that wouldn’t cost you a penny but could be invaluable to the recipient.

I encourage you to do something nice for someone else. Think about all the good things in your life, think about everything you have to be grateful for, and think of all the wonderful opportunities people have given to or shared with you. Let this be the source of inspiration and motivation to do good unto others. We don’t even have to suggest that this could be a religious thing; it can simply be a human thing. Once you have your inspiration and motivation to help, now think of your many talents, skills, and abilities. This can be how you choose to serve someone, or maybe you’ll simply be presented with an opportunity to be a good person and help someone smile.

Thanks for reading and, as always, be excellent!

Create the future you want with the choice to change now! This column offers Strength & Focus for the moments you need to overcome the distractions of the week, each and every day. Look for it every Monday on NEPA Scene.