Pay it forward
Pay it forward is an expression for describing the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it to others instead of to the original benefactor. The concept is old, but the phrase may have been coined by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book In the Garden of Delight.
"Pay it forward" is implemented in contract law of loans in the concept of third party beneficiaries. Specifically, the creditor offers the debtor the option of paying the debt forward by lending it to a third person instead of paying it back to the original creditor. This contract may include the provision that the debtor may repay the debt in kind, lending the same amount to a similarly disadvantaged party once they have the means, and under the same conditions. Debt and payments can be monetary or by good deeds. A related type of transaction, which starts with a gift instead of a loan, is alternative giving.
Pay it forward was used as a key plot element in the denouement of a New Comedy play by Menander, Dyskolos (a title which can be translated as "The Grouch"). Dyskolos was a prizewinning play in ancient Athens in 317 BC; however, the text of the play was lost and it was only recovered and republished in 1957.
I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you. When you [...] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro' many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his 1841 essay Compensation, 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."
In 1916, Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, "You don't pay love back; you pay it forward."
Woody Hayes (February 14, 1913 – March 12, 1987) was a college football coach who is best remembered for winning five national titles and 13 Big Ten championships in 28 years at The Ohio State University. He misquoted Emerson as having said "You can pay back only seldom. You can always pay forward, and you must pay line for line, deed for deed, and cent for cent." He also shortened the (mis)quotation into "You can never pay back; but you can always pay forward" and variants.
An anonymous spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous said in the Christian Science Monitor in 1944, "You can't pay anyone back for what has happened to you, so you try to find someone you can pay forward."
Robert Heinlein's contribution
The banker reached into the folds of his gown, pulled out a single credit note. "But eat first—a full belly steadies the judgment. Do me the honor of accepting this as our welcome to the newcomer."
His pride said no; his stomach said YES! Don took it and said, "Uh, thanks! That's awfully kind of you. I'll pay it back, first chance."
"Instead, pay it forward to some other brother who needs it."
Heinlein both preached and practiced this philosophy; now the Heinlein Society, a humanitarian organization founded in his name, does so, attributing the philosophy to its various efforts, including Heinlein for Heroes, the Heinlein Society Scholarship Program, and Heinlein Society blood drives. Author Spider Robinson made repeated reference to the doctrine, attributing it to his spiritual mentor Heinlein.
Heinlein was a mentor to Ray Bradbury, giving him help and quite possibly passing on the concept, made famous by the publication of a letter from him to Heinlein thanking him. In Bradbury's novel Dandelion Wine, published in 1957, when the main character Douglas Spaulding is reflecting on his life being saved by Mr. Jonas, the Junkman:
How do I thank Mr. Jonas, he wondered, for what he's done? How do I thank him, how pay him back? No way, no way at all. You just can't pay. What then? What? Pass it on somehow, he thought, pass it on to someone else. Keep the chain moving. Look around, find someone, and pass it on. That was the only way....
Bradbury has also advised that writers he has helped thank him by helping other writers.
The mathematician Paul Erdős heard about a promising math student unable to enroll in Harvard University for financial reasons. Erdős contributed enough to allow the young man to register. Years later, the man offered to return the entire amount to Erdős, but Erdős insisted that the man rather find another student in his situation, and give the money to him.
Some time in 1980, a sixteen-page supplemental Marvel comic appeared in the Chicago Tribune entitled “What Price a Life?” and was subsequently reprinted as the backup story in Marvel Team-Up #126 dated February, 1983. This was a team-up between Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk, in which Spider-Man helps the Hulk escape from police who mistakenly thought that he was attacking them. Afterwards, they meet in their secret identities, with Peter Parker warning Bruce Banner to leave town because of the Hulk’s seeming attack on police. But Banner is flat broke, and cannot afford even bus fare. As a result, Parker gives Banner his last $5 bill, saying that someone had given him money when he was down on his luck, and this was how he was repaying that debt. Later, in Chicago, the Hulk confronts muggers who had just robbed an elderly retired man of his pension money, all the money he had. After corralling the muggers, the Hulk turns towards the victim. The retiree thinks that the Hulk is about to attack him as well, but instead, the Hulk gives him the $5 bill. It transpires that the very same old man had earlier given a down-on-his-luck Peter Parker a $5 bill.
In 2000, Catherine Ryan Hyde's novel Pay It Forward was published and adapted into a film of the same name, distributed by Warner Bros. and starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment. In Ryan Hyde's book and movie it is described as an obligation to do three good deeds for others in response to a good deed that one receives. Such good deeds should accomplish things that the other person cannot accomplish on their own. In this way, the practice of helping one another can spread geometrically through society, at a ratio of three to one, creating a social movement with an impact of making the world a better place.
The Pay it Forward Movement and Foundation was founded in the USA helping start a ripple effect of kindness acts around the world. The newly appointed president of the foundation, Charley Johnson, had an idea for encouraging kindness acts by having a Pay it Forward Bracelet that could be worn as a reminder. Since then, over a million Pay it Forward bracelets have been distributed in over 100 countries sparking acts of kindness. Few bracelets remain with their original recipients, however, as they circulate in the spirit of the reciprocal or generalized altruism.
On April 5, 2012, WBRZ-TV, the American Broadcasting Company affiliate for the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, did a story on The Newton Project, a 501(c)(3) outreach organization created to demonstrate that regardless of how big the problems of the world may seem, each person can make a difference simply by taking the time to show love, appreciation and kindness to the people around them. It is based on the classic pay-it-forward concept, but demonstrates the impact of each act on the world by tracking each wristband with a unique ID number and quantifying the lives each has touched. The Newton Project’s attempt to quantify the benefits of a Pay It Forward type system can be viewed by the general public at their website.
Inspired by John F. Kennedy who profoundly declared, "Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation", The Student Body of America Association, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, has initiated its Project Pay it Forward program to implement education with the pay-it-forward concept.
- Random act of kindness
- Reciprocity (social psychology)
- Reciprocity (cultural anthropology)
- Six degrees of separation
- Social business
- Social responsibility
- Gift economy
- Hammond, Lily Hardy (1916). In the Garden of Delight. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co. p. 209. Archived from the original on October 7, 2012.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Compensation, 1841, (text of Emerson essay)
- "Group to Combat Alcoholism Grows Apace in Anonymity" Christian Science Monitor Jan 8, 1944; pg. 3
- "Passing on the gift" is fundamental to Heifer's entire approach.
- Pay it Forward — Heinlein Society
The most important aspect of Robert Heinlein’s legacy that we at The Heinlein Society support and adhere to is his concept of paying it forward.
- "The Heinlein Society".
- Hoffman, Paul (1998). The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. Fourth Estate. ISBN 1-85702-829-5.
- Sjœrdsma, Al. "Review of "What Price a Life?"". ComicBoards.com. SpiderFan.org. Retrieved 6 March 2012.
- Pay It Forward Foundation
- Pay It Forward Experience
- The Newton Project
- Student Body of America Association
- Project Pay It Forward
- Pay it Forward Day UK
- Pay It Forward Foundation
- International Pay it Forward Day
- Be A Kind Voice to someone in need.