Friday, February 13, 2015

Paying It Forward

Pay It Forward - a favorite movie for many folks.  Not for me. It's a great movie, has great actors, but I strongly disliked the ending. One thing I really enjoyed was that the main characters are a teacher and a student which is the reason I was interested in watching it. If you've never watched it, here's a spoiler alert. The movie is amazingly inspiring right up until the very end.  As a hopeless romantic and optimist, I was crushed when the boy didn't get what he deserved.  I was not only disappointed, I was devastated. 

As I pondered on this week's question - "How can we teach students to pay kindness forward - to give expecting nothing in return?"- I couldn't help but think about the film.  Honestly, I am still so heartbroken by that ending that I hate to even use that phrase, but the reality is that life is just like that.  True generosity is not about giving expecting to receive or giving back what's deserved but it's about giving expecting nothing in return.  Furthermore, we can't expect our generosity to always be returned and sometimes may not even be recognized.  As I began to ponder on this week's question, I realized that perhaps my disappointment lies in my inability to accept life's reality.

According to Wikipedia, the expression "pay it forward" simply refers to paying a good deed to someone other than the person who was good to you.  It is also a legal term which means paying a debt forward to a third party instead of paying it back to the original creditor (see the Wikipedia link).  But aside from the acts of kindness, I believe paying it forward is more about attitude than about actions. If your heart isn't right, the deeds can be tarnished. Gifts don't have to be tangible and deeds can be as simple as a smile or a genuine compliment, but when our motives are pure, there's an undeniable magic that may be unspoken but its impact is huge. 

Okay, so back to the original question.  How can I teach my students to pay kindness forward - to give expecting nothing in return?  In my humble opinion, this is one of those soft skills that must be modeled.  In order for my students (and my own children) to be able to learn to pay it forward, they must see it in me.  Sure, I can develop service learning projects, charity fundraisers for sick children and canned goods drives for the less fortunate, I can do that and so much more and still may not be paying it forward.  Kids are watching closely even when it seems they are not looking. Opportunities to pay it forward come all day long.  They may not always seem very significant, but they are there and if we seize the moment, we are teaching them by our actions.

Life is hard and our good deeds are not always returned. There are always those negative, difficult people that embitter our lives no matter how hard we try to make peace with them.  We don't always get what we want or think we deserve, we don't always win no matter how hard we try and we don't always live happily ever after.  But, we can live for the moment and make it as bright and beautiful as we possibly can.

This post has made me reflect on my own attitude and made me realize that I need to be more attentive to all those opportunities to pay it forward because in attempting to bless that one person I may be able to change the world.


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