Thursday, January 26, 2012
Surprise in the Mail / Paying It Forward
A number of years ago I saw the movie Pay It Forward, and it instantly became one of my favorites. The movie, starring Kevin Spacey, is based on a book that was written by Catherine Ryan Hyde about a middle school student who, as part of a school project, starts a movement where people repay kindnesses by doing something nice for 2 other people, thereby "paying it forward" rather than paying it "back." It's a brilliant idea on so many different levels and I've been thinking lately about how I can inject a little more "pay it forward" into some of my kindness acts. I was able to do that, albeit in a subtle way, today. Here's what happened.
I decided I would take a couple of the Starbucks gift cards that I had purchased almost a month ago and anonymously use them to spread some good will; but I wanted to include a "pay it forward" element. So I went to my computer and typed a note that said: "Please enjoy this small gift from an anonymous stranger simply wanting to spread more happiness and joy." Then I added the following line on the bottom of the page: "What can you do today to make someone else's day just a little bit brighter?" I printed off 2 copies of the note, folded each one into an envelope together with a Starbucks gift card, put a stamp on them, and got into my car.
I wanted to mail the envelopes to 2 random people so I drove through town and simply picked two houses by chance. I addressed each envelope to "Resident" and wrote the addresses I had chosen, with no return address, and then dropped them off at the post office. I have no idea whose houses they were and probably will never know how they react; but I'm hoping it made each of their days a little better, and that they might choose to pay it forward in some way by making someone else's day a little brighter.
Earlier today, I was talking about my project with someone and they commented that it would be great to be able to trace what happens with all these acts of kindness and how it impacts people. While I certainly do think about that, and it would be fascinating, and perhaps even satisfying to know, I've really tried to let go of any attachment to results. I've already seen how people can react so differently to the same situation, but trying to make sense of their reactions isn't my objective. My two main goals remain to 1) cultivate a heart of kindness by doing daily intentional acts of kindness for their own sake, and 2) observe, reflect, and record what I learn, mostly about myself, in the process. If I do have a third goal, it's to inspire others, principally through my blog, to increase the kindness they put into their own worlds.