What does the idiom, "Pay it Forward" Mean?


"Pay it Forward" is an idiomatic phrase which means that if something good happens to a person he turns around and does good for someone else. The idea here is that instead of paying back to the person, who has helped you, the good deed is passed forward to someone else. ‘Pay it forward’ is an altruistic concept which can be started anywhere to sustain a healthy and beneficial practice to mankind. 

Where did the phrase "Pay it Forward" originate?

The concept of ‘pay it forward’ finds a reference as early as 1951 in Robert A. Heinlein’s book “Between Planets”. The idea got popularized later in the movie “Pay it forward” which was released in the year 2000. In the movie, Haley Joel Osment plays the role of a young boy who has to work on a school assignment requiring him to find a way to bring about a change in the world. The boy develops the concept of ‘pay it forward’ and sets forth a chain of good deeds.


An instance of the ‘pay it forward’ can be found in history, in a letter written by Ben Franklin in 1784, to Benjamin Webb. Ben Franklin expressed his intention to help Mr. Webb with the money he wanted. In return Ben Franklin wanted Mr. Webb to help some needy person in future who may require some financial assistance and ‘pay it forward’ to him.

What does "Pay it Forward" entail?

The concept of ‘pay it forward’ should be undertaken with a selfless spirit. Basically when a person is doing a kind deed he doesn’t expect anything in return. There are many organizations that encourage the concept of ‘pay it forward’ anonymously. People donate money or perform acts for others benefit without coming in the limelight. Instead the beneficiary is told to adhere to the concept of ‘pay it forward’.By doing a good deed with the philosophy of ‘pay it forward’, one can only hope to multiply and grow the chain of good deeds.


How can one "Pay it Forward"?

The concept behind ‘pay it forward’ need not always involve large sums of money or great actions of charity. It may entail seemingly minor acts but which may be of great help to the person receiving help.For example, someone gives you a lift while you are stranded on the road with no alternate arrangement. You are extremely grateful for this act but may not meet the kind stranger again. In such a circumstance you may pay it forward by mowing the lawn for your neighbor who is down with an ailment. Helping a senior citizen cross a busy road may be a blessing for the concerned person. Similarly giving a place in the queue for someone who genuinely needs it may make a difference for the person. Little, selfless acts go a long way to make the world a better place.

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