Other than the movie, where did the term “pay it forward” come from?
The concept is old, but the familiar phrase was coined by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book in the “Garden of Delight.” Lily said “you don’t pay love back, you pay it forward.”
The term has been around since the great years of Athens, in 317 B.C. Other scholars have used the expression throughout history.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom but the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent to somebody.”
Benjamin Franklin (1784) said “I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you.”
Linda and I last week were working in the front yard trying to overcome an erosion problem we have had for years, never being able to grow a significant stand of grass due to the huge trees that shade most of our bear sandy soil.
Mark, a guy we met last fall as we were raking leaves, pulled into the driveway and tentatively walked across the yard and reintroduced himself. “Do you remember me?” He said he had met us when he stopped to talk while riding his bicycle on our road last year. He said we were raking leaves. He wanted to help us last year but continued his ride.
When he saw us working this year he wanted to stop by and offer his help. I thought of the expression pay it forward. I wondered if that’s what he was doing: offering his help because someone had done something kind for him.
We didn’t know how to except his help. Such offers happen so infrequently, it caught us off guard. We could have used a little help but we said “oh no we’re good.” He asked several times as we had a nice chat.
We as a society are too busy to pay it forward and when someone offers their own kindness we often wonder why they are doing so. We do not know exactly why they are making the offer and are somehow suspicious because it seems so unusual.
It is not the same as contributing to charity, tithing or buying Girl Scout cookies. This kind of giving is personal; the gift of time, the offering makes the giver feel just as good as the one being offered.
“You don’t pay love back, you pay it forward.”