Paying it forward

news: Paying it forward

I saw a movie called Pay it Forward the other evening. It is not a new movie and it was probably not a huge box-office hit – there was no gratuitous violence, mass rape and murder or bad language that seems to typify such money-spinners – but it carried a very interesting message.

The challenge to a group of young schoolchildren was to change the world in a term. One of the kids came up with the idea that, if he helped three people who then each helped three people, who then each helped three people, the concept of being nice and passing it on could spread. By the end of the movie, the kid had died – trying to help someone – but he had been on TV,paying it forward had captured the imagination of the public and, we are led to believe, he left a legacy of kindness.

The whole point is not just to do something positive for someone, but not to expect anything in return. Instead, you ask that person to pay it forward – to do something nice for three other people. How alien is that? The very idea of helping someone makes most people feel uncomfortable – but not wanting anything in return? Get out of here! They want it back with interest!

About 12 years ago, I was still living in Spain, but coming to the Algarve fairly frequently. On one of my trips, I saw a young woman hitching a ride and going in my direction. I stopped and gave her a ride. She explained she had come from Málaga, where she had been robbed of everything, and was going to Cádiz, where her father, a ship’s captain, was due to land the following day.

Cádiz was not on my route, but I diverted to take her there, stopping for lunch along the way, and giving her a cheque that she could cash to pay for a hotel for the night. I gave her my card and told her she could pay me back when things were sorted out with her father. When I arrived in the Algarve – very late, of course – my friends called me stupid, said I had been conned and that I would never see my money again.

Sure enough, on my return journey, I saw the same young woman in the same place, hitching another ride. Not knowing whether to feel angry, betrayed or just sorry for her, I let it go – and a week later, I received a cheque in the post, totally out of the blue, from the taxman, for exactly the amount that I had given to the young lady. If you give it out, and let it go, it always comes back one way or another!

Telling people who tell people is the most powerful way to reach a lot of people. It has certainly been working with Douglas Ballard, the healer and medium who was here for a couple of weeks. The phone didn’t stop with people saying, “my friend came to see him and said I had to come too”. Even on his last day, people were calling – good job he is coming back in January! The group work has been amazing too. As he says, learning to work with this universal energy is not a selfish thing, it has to be passed on, to help others. Watching people develop and seeing their abilities grow is a delight. Soon, there will be far more of us paying it forward!

It is at this time of year, with Christmas looming, that the gap between those who have and those who don’t is most blatantly obvious. A couple of months ago, a friend told me about a man who left Zimbabwe and went to London, hoping to find work in order to send money back to his starving family.The only work he could find was in a restaurant – where he was paid to clear up and throw the waste food into the bins. Ironic, isn’t it?

Too far away? Too remote? Try this. The head of one of the local Algarve orphanages was invited last year to take 40 children to a play. On the day, she arrived with only 20. When asked why, she replied: “I could only bring those who had shoes to wear.” For heaven’s sake, this is Europe in 2004 – almost 2005 – and there are still children in these homes with no shoes to wear?

If you are reading this and thinking, “the idea of pay it forward is all very well, but it will never work,” then – please – think again. Why not start by sorting out shoes, clothes and toys that are no longer needed in your house and donating them to one of the orphanages? Owen Gee at Kiss FM Radio is co-ordinating a Christmas appeal, mainly for presents for the kids, but I know he won’t refuse bags full of second-hand stuff. If you have the courage, go with him and deliver the sacks to the kids yourself – that could well bring you down to earth with a bump!

Go on, pay it forward… You never know, it might catch on and then where would we all be?