Pay it Forward
Not everyone associates ethics with kindness. We think of it as part of good manners or civility. Yet, treating others with kindness evokes The Golden Rule – to treat others the way you want to be treated. One example of how we can take tangible actions to treat others with kindness is to “Pay it Forward.”
April 28 is ‘Pay it Forward’ Day. Pay it Forward is a global initiative that exists to make a difference by creating a string of kind actions felt across the world. The idea is even small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can literally change the world for the better. The goal of the day is to encourage us to embrace the power of giving; show each other that we care; make a difference in someone’s life; and encourage others to do the same.
Paying it forward is often linked to performing ‘random acts of kindness.’ The philosophy of random acts of kindness is altruism, a selfless concern for others. It is to urge people to be kind to each other, especially those they don’t know, without any specific reason. The purpose is to get others to return the kindness to start a chain reaction of good deeds.
The concept of doing a kind act for another person has always been on our ethics radar but really took flight after the movie, “Pay it Forward,” was released. The movie tells the story of Trevor McKinney, a 12-year old student, who is given a class assignment to devise and put into action a plan that will change the world forever. It has to be a major favor that the recipient cannot complete themselves. Trevor does a favor for three people, asking each of them to pay it forward by doing favors for three people, and so on, along a branching tree of good deeds.
When was the last time you thought of paying for the food of the customer behind you in line at a window check out, even those you don’t know? Back in August 2014, a customer at a drive-through at a Starbucks in St. Petersburg, Florida, paid for her own iced coffee at 7 am, and also asked to pay for a caramel macchiato for the driver behind her, who then did the same for the next customer. People ordered a drink at the speaker. When they pulled through to the next window, the barista, Vu Nguyen, 29, leaned through and said with a smile that their drinks had already been paid for by the person in front of them. Would they like to return the favor? By closing at 10 pm, 378 people kept the chain going.
Kindness is an essential part of being a good person – an ethical person – because it is a selfless act and one done to better the lives of others. Kindness drives compassionate people and defines who they are. Kind people care about others – their feelings and well-being.
So, what can you do to practice random acts of kindness?
- Feed a neighbor’s dogs while they are out of town so the dogs do not have to go to a kennel.
- Offer to cover the shift of a co-worker who has a family event to attend.
- Volunteer at a food bank or a religious institution.
- Organize a charitable event in your community.
- Write a thank you note (don’t send an email) to someone who did something kind for you.
In this age of radical political and religious ideologies, corporate swindling, and the harsh realities of social media, where we live our lives so publicly, people are desperate for moral direction. By practicing random acts of kindness, we send the message that we have a responsibility to enhance the well-being of others and contribute to the betterment of our communities and society.
Blog posted on April 26, 2017 by Steve Mintz, Professor Emeritus, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Steve blogs under the pseudonym, Ethics Sage.