Pay It Forward

This is me borrowing a phrase from that film which was not as good as it could have been: Pay It Forward. I am not here to offer a film review or a critique of the film’s merits. I am here for another reason. A selfish reason. This is a call to all potential mentors, teachers, students, disciples and apprentices.

Use your expertise and teach it others. Turn your brain into sponges and open it wide open; because there’s a whole tree of knowledge ready for you to devour. It could be anything from volunteering, acting, writing, crafting, fixing a car, building a computer, learning a new language, fighting corruption, spreading word about something you feel is important, or even giving swim lessons. A life wasted is one spent in front of a television or playing video games. Fictitious points don’t add up to shit in the real world. The real world is waiting for you to amaze it. The world will not give a second thought to moving on if you can’t wow it. The world will forget you just as fast as it noticed you. And then you will find yourself six feet under. Your friends and family will be at your funeral staggering over each other trying to figure out what to say: “Well, he was a good person. Uhm … he paid his bills! I mean, you gave that guy a bill and he paid it! … I’ve got nothing.”

Okay. Maybe that won’t happen. But it could. Anything is possible. We live in a world where people pay to go to gym classes such as Zumba and Pole Dancing as legitimate ways to exercise. So, again, anything is possible. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Everyone is good at something. Find that thing you are good at and do it. Don’t hesitate. The moment you hesitate is the moment you let the world leave you behind. The moment you forget yourself and what you are capable of. Be the awesome that thing you see in yourself.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Here, Gandhi is telling us that personal and social transformation go hand in hand, but there is no suggestion in his words that personal transformation is enough. In fact, for Gandhi, the struggle to bring about a better world involved not only stringent self-denial and rigorous adherence to the philosophy of nonviolence; it also involved a steady awareness that one person, alone, can’t change anything, an awareness that unjust authority can be overturned only by great numbers of people working together with discipline and persistence.

Selflessness is the sincere concern for the well being of others. It’s about love. It’s about compassion. It’s about kindness and faith. It’s about making a difference in the world. Sure, you are only one, but you are one. You cannot do everything, but you can do something. Smile and enjoy the fact that you have the ability to make a difference — one you’ll likely remember forever.

The question of altruism and whether or not is useful or useless has been debated for ages. St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica, II:II Quaestio 25, Article 4 states that we should love our neighbour more than our ourselves. His interpretation of the Pauline phrase is that we should seek the common good more than the private good, but this is because the common good is a more desirable good for the individual. St Thomas interprets ‘You should love your neighbor as yourself’ from Leviticus 19 and Matthew 22 as meaning that love for ourselves is the exemplar of love for others. . James Fieser states the altruist dictum as: “An action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable to everyone except the agent.” Auguste Comte’s version of altruism calls for living for the sake of others. One who holds to either of these ethics is known as an “altruist.” He believed that individuals had a moral obligation to renounce self-interest and live for others. Comte says, in his Catéchisme Positiviste,that:

“[The] social point of view cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such notion rests on individualism. We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries. After our birth these obligations increase or accumulate, for it is some time before we can return any service…. This [“to live for others”], the definitive formula of human morality, gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence, the common source of happiness and duty. [Man must serve] Humanity, whose we are entirely.”

Friedrich Nietzsche held that the idea that to treat others as more important than oneself is degrading and demeaning to the self. He also believed that the idea that others have a higher value than oneself hinders the individual’s pursuit of self-development, excellence, and creativity. However, he did assert a “duty” to help those who are weaker than oneself.

When you pay it forward you give yourself value. And others will see that value you have contributed and thank you for it. It’s not about living solely in pursuit of helping others, (unless that is in fact your profession), it’s about using what you know, using what you value, using what makes you unique to help others and to help shape the world into a better place. I’ve had many mentors in my life. One day it will be my turn to mentor someone. When will it be your turn?

Originally published at on March 31, 2014.