The concept of paying it forward was popularised in the movie “Pay It Forward,” a Mimi Leder film released in October 2000 that starred Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment. But the concept is by no means a modern one—Wikipedia dates it as far back as 317 BC when paying forward was said to be central to the plot of the comedy Dyskolos by the Greek dramatist Menander. The concept then found its way through a host of literary works over the centuries.
Why do I bring this up? Because I believe the concept of paying it forward—defined as an act of repaying a good deed or word to others instead of to the one who provided the deed or expressed the word—is one of the last remaining truly selfless acts a human being can perform. And as such, it is often a reminder that no matter how materialistic, narcissistic, and selfish this world has become, ordinary people can be capable of selflessness and generosity beyond what is expected of them.
Simply put, paying it forward makes the world a much better place to live in. The principle of repaying kindness with kindness, not to the one who showed you kindness but to others who had nothing to do with the act itself but who would otherwise benefit from the random act, is an affirmation of our humanity. In a world marked by greed, prejudice, and downright meanness, paying it forward is a breath of fresh air.
Last month, we celebrated our first year in Canada. The road has been difficult, and the challenges continue to be daunting. But I must admit that what helped us plod on in the past 12 months were random acts of kindness, from strangers and mere acquaintances. Like many new immigrants in Canada, we were often faced with the question of whether we had made the right decision to migrate.
These strangers and mere acquaintances gave us the answer: they showed us generosity and kindness that were totally unexpected. And what we heard from them, when asked, “you helped us even though you hardly know us,” was a straightforward and heartwarming reply: “we’re paying it forward because others had helped us before.”
As I reflect on the past year, and as I look ahead to our new life here in Canada, I can only hope that things will work out. I know that my new home is a far better one from the one I left behind. But I also know that my work is cut out for me. It is never easy to start a new life in a land that may seem strange and distant. What will help see me through, and I assume this holds true for other new immigrants like myself, will be the random acts of kindness of strangers who pay it forward. They are the ones who truly make this world a better place.