Paying It Forward

"Forward ever backward never" is a PanAfrican saying that has been used to encourage people of African descent to continually focus on working towards  their future. The phrase has also come to describe not back-tracking to an emotional place, romantic relationship or friendship after moving on from said situation. Recently, we sat with this phrase and thought about how else could “backward never” be transmuted as it pertains to serving our communities? This led to us to think about the notion of "paying it forward". 

Scholars have written about this type of human interaction. It has been popularised by a novel and movie of the same name. Modern social experiments have sprung from the concept, creating ripple effects of "random acts of kindness". Predating all these however, are the ancient applications of the idea. The Ancient Khemites imparted laws that elevated good deeds. The Forty-Two Laws of Ma’at was a strict moral code promoting personal responsibility and accountability with a focus on divine evolution. For Khemites, as the time came to move on to the afterlife, a person’s heart would be weighed against the feather of Ma’at and if that person’s deeds were good, his/her heart would be lighter than the feather. As a result, the individual would be granted the honour of traversing eternal life. Other ancient societies placed emphasis on spreading gestures of compassion and generousity as a means to being safe in the hereafter.

Like the ancients, we too can prioritise  positively affecting those around us through giving cheerfully and selflessly. We can do something for a person without expecting or requesting anything in return. When the opportunity arises, the beneficiary of the initial good deed then repeats the principle. As this continues,  kindness spreads  and generousity is magnified. Paying it forward merely requires an open, willing heart. Practical examples of doing so include giving a large tip to a waiter, paying the bill for an unsuspecting fellow customer in a restaurant or mentoring disenfranchised youth. Whatever the gesture, giving makes the world better and  feels good. In fact, studies have found a correlation between giving and lower activity in the area of the brain that produces stress and fear responses. In other words, as we give more, we stress less. It's important to note however, that we must give from our overflow. Overextending ourselves can be detrimental. Giving from a place of obligation, guilt or from wanting to appear generous defeats the purpose. Furthermore, there are many ways to give that do not have to be monetary. Paying it forward is not about spending money on material things. It is really about tapping into that part of us that desires to bring joy to others.

You may believe like the ancient Khemites that doing good is integral to where we find ourselves in the afterlife. You may believe like Hindus and Buddhists that  doing good for others is the road to good karma or you may believe that as the Bible says, when we give it is returned to us “in good measure”. Regardless of what our spiritual perspectives are, we all can benefit from serving others. So  let's find opportunities to share kindness unexpectedly. 

What blessings have you received and how have you paid them forward? 

Photography Credit: Joel John

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