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The expression "pay it forward" is used to describe the concept of asking that a good turn be repaid by having it done to others instead. In contract law, typically there are two parties but there is the concept of third party beneficiaries. Pay it forward merely applies this contract law concept so that third party beneficiary be a stranger to the creditor (or obligee). More specifically, the creditor (obligee) offers the debtor (obligor) the option of "paying" the debt forward by lending it to a third person instead of paying it back to the original creditor. Debt and payments can be monetary or by good deeds. In sociology, this concept is called "generalized reciprocity" or "generalized exchange". A related transaction, which starts with a gift instead of a loan, is alternative giving.

Contents

History

The concept was described by Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Benjamin Webb dated April 22, 1784:

I do not pretend to give such a Sum; 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 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."

Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, "You don't pay love back; you pay it forward."[1]

Wayne Woodrow “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 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.

The 1929 novel, Magnificent Obsession, by Lloyd C. Douglass, also espoused this philosophy, in combination with the concept that good deeds should be performed in confidence.

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."[2]

The term "pay it forward" was popularized, by Robert A. Heinlein in his book Between Planets, published in 1951:

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. Author Spider Robinson made repeated reference to the doctrine, attributing it to his spiritual mentor Heinlein.[3]

The mathematician Paul Erdős, in one of his visits to Harvard University, met a promising math student on the verge of expulsion for inability to pay his tuition. Erdős paid the young man's tuition in full. 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 tuition to him.[4]

In 2000, Catherine Ryan Hyde's novel Pay It Forward was published and adapted into a Warner Brothers film, Pay It Forward. In Ryan Hyde's book and movie it is described as an obligation to do three good deeds for others in repayment of a good deed that one receives. Such good deeds should be things that the other person cannot accomplish on their own. In this way, the need to help one another can spread exponentially through society, creating a social movement with the goal of making the world a better place.

The idea of the book has been championed in real life by the Pay It Forward Foundation. The Foundation focuses on bringing the idea of paying it forward to school age children, parents, and educators. The simple idea of doing good works for others to repay the good that has happened to you is one that can easily be conveyed to children and encourages them to be socially aware and take a role in making the world a better place.[citation needed] The main character of the book was a 12-year-old child, thus giving other children someone they can relate to.

In 2004, a small group of University of Minnesota students, wanting to find a way for students to do ordinary things to improve their world, created the student group Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF). The main event for STLF is the annual "Pay It Forward" tour, where college students spend their Spring Break on a bus trip to several cities doing community service projects, with the idea that those served will "pay it forward" and benefit their communities.[5]

In October 2005, Syracuse University's Residence Hall Association began a Pay It Forward campaign on campus. It spread on campus rapidly, and was noted for entering mainstream Syracuse society as a result.[citation needed] Many other schools have begun such campaigns.

On October 26, 2006 Oprah gave her audience a challenge to Pay it Forward, giving 300 audience guests $1,000 USD on a debit card and a camcorder to record the acts of kindness they did. The rules of the challenge were very specific, the money had to be spent within one week and could only be used to help charitable organizations or an individual person but not a relative.

In April 2009 Pay it Forward made its way to Craigslist and Youtube.[6] A simple craigslist posting said "I can help you with groceries, give you a ride if you need one..."

One weekend of time, a car ride, and an idea to pay it forward in the real world, was featured in various media outlets. Later, group yellow in a Small Group Communication class presented this topic at Bakersfield College and got an A.[7] [8]

See also

References

  1. ^ L. H. Hammond In the Garden of Delight Thomas Y. Crowell: NY, 1916 p. 209
  2. ^ "Group to Combat Alcoholism Grows Apace in Anonymity" Christian Science Monitor Jan 8, 1944; pg. 3
  3. ^ "The Heinlein Society". http://www.heinleinsociety.org/CentennialReader/heinleinsociety.html. 
  4. ^ Hoffman, Paul (1999). The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. Fourth Estate. ISBN 1857028295. 
  5. ^ http://www.stlf.net
  6. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nd8m1Kqgbjg
  7. ^ http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09106/963233-455.stm
  8. ^ http://www.windycitizen.com/news/04/14/2009/pittsburgh-samaritan-chicago

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