Upon reading the previous sentence, you’re probably already skeptical. Changing the world is difficult. It requires worldwide communication and cooperation — yet our differing beliefs, ideals, and perspectives makes it hard for even two strangers to agree on any one thing.
Catherine Ryan Hyde suggests that the one thing that can be used to change the world is what every one of us has the capacity to experience: Gratitude. In order to truly benefit from the power of gratitude, though, we need to learn to abandon the traditional act of paying people back, and adopt the act of “paying people forward.”
As a simple example, imagine that you do favors for three friends. Eventually, these three friends pay you back for the favor. In the end, when everyone is decidedly “even,” you’ve affected a total of only four people: Yourself and your three friends.
In other words, by participating in the traditional act of having people pay you back, you’re creating a closed system — the favors being received never proceed beyond your friends. This isn’t to suggest that doing favors for your friends is a bad thing, it’s just that it creates a world full of closed systems:
Consequently, there will be people who never experience a kind act from anyone else, who live in a closed system containing only themselves. I imagine these people resent those who have received favors, and direct a lot of hate towards others. The reason I believe these types of people exist is because of the kinds of hateful messages I receive in response to LifeReboot:
I’d just like to say that the reason you were depressed was probably because you are a twat.
This derogatory comment is not the first of its kind. I have already written two articles that include samples of the hate mail I receive. I’ve been called a moron, a pussy, a slacker, a jerkbag, an arrogant prick, a self-righteous prick, a lazy ass, a burnt out whiner, and now a twat. (And these are just the names I’m willing to publish.)
When I receive these kinds of hateful comments, I’m saddened by the idea that this is the type of world we’re living in — where people knowingly treat strangers with incredible disrespect. Honestly, is there any benefit to be had from leaving abusive comments on my blog? I’d understand if I purposely offended people in real life, and they retaliated — but the onslaught directed at me comes from an anonymous audience to whom I’ve done nothing.
So what can be done if I don’t even know who these people are?
Enter “Pay It Forward” — an idea to help everyone using the power of exponential growth. It begins with a single person who helps three people. The help performed is subjective, depending on what the helper can offer and the receivers need, but it must be something significant — like the kind of help you’d only do for a close friend or relative.
The only rule is that in exchange for receiving help, each of the three receivers must become helpers themselves. The most important detail is that the help cannot be paid back, it must be paid forward. In other words, each new helper must find three new people to help. The resulting movement becomes large very quickly:
One person helps 3 people.
Those 3 people help 9 others,
and those 9 people help 27 others,
and those 27 people help 81 others,
and those 81 people help 243 others,
and those 243 people help 729 others,
and those 729 people help 2187 others,
and those 2187 people help 6561 others,
and those 6561 people help 19683 others…
…and it continues growing like this until everyone starts being helped more than once:
In the above diagram, everyone was affected by only the fourth level of “Pay It Forward.” Though I didn’t actually draw 81 purple arrows, I’m sure you understand the significance: When people pay it forward, nobody gets left out. Consequently, we’d end up living in an world where everyone was anxious to help others.
I’m certain there will be naysayers who label the concept too idealistic for reality. Admittedly, the notion of “Pay It Forward” is easy in theory and difficult in practice — but I’d like to think that as difficult as it may seem, changing the world is possible.
So if you want to help change the world, don’t immediately dismiss the idea. “Pay It Forward” relies on cooperation, so I intend to do my part — and I will. I hope that you will too.
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