Thursday, May 19, 2005

Pay it forward

A VERY mad but lovely Scottish friend of mine forwarded me a story this week retelling this story of a mystery person who has been posting random amounts of money into letterboxes in Edinburgh with the words "Do you believe in angels?" written on the envelopes.

Of course, being a practical modern living woman of the noughties, my first thought was one of "Why does said mystery man not live in Derry?"- but then my second thought was that whoever this person was, they were obviously well versed in the concept of "paying it forward".
For those unfamiliar with the term (or the film of that name starring the wee lad who sees dead people in "The Sixth Sense") - paying it forward is like a happy version of that gloom laden statement "What goes around, comes around".
You see, basically if you are nice to someone, something nice will happen to you in return. And if you perform a random act of kindness (such as stuffing a wadge of tenners through your neighbour's door) you will start a chain of goodwill and happiness and, sooner or later, we will all be a bunch of happy people, having touched each other's lives in a positive and inspiring way.
Obviously your random act of kindness does not have to be as generous as parting with your hard earned cash and I doubt that unless my numbers come up on Saturday night or my boss realises what a fantabulous journalist I really am and quadruples my salary, I would ever be in a position to hand over my cash to strangers.
But you could do something as simple as holding a door open for someone; offering to carry someone's shopping or complimenting them on their hair or their shoes. It could even be as basic as smiling at someone. (Please note however, quipping "Cheer up, it might never happen" is inadvisable in any circumstance unless you fancy a smack in the mouth.).
I admit I try to "pay it forward" as much as possible and I'm sure on occasion that this has give me the appearance of a weird kind of crazy stalker lady . I have stopped someone just to say their shoes were lovely and ask where they bought them. Similarly when I've seen a young toddler dressed in a cool outfit, I'll comment on it and ask where it was bought.
If someone has a gorgeous baby I'll the mad woman smiling maniacally into the pram and telling the mother their child is gorgeous and, of course, that they look amazing for someone who has just given birth.
With every expression I know I risk the person receiving the compliment glowering at me or considering me to be a looper; but sometimes such a phrase can make a world of difference to someone's day.
Have you ever been out and feeling harassed, stressed out and generally frump-tastic? Then someone comments on your bag, or your shoes or even your hair (which you had thought looked more "bird's nest" that the fashionable "just got out of bed" look) and suddenly you walk a little taller, feel a little slimmer, increase your confidence and smile at the next person who looks at you?

And so the happiness continues
It's a little sad in this day and age that we always think that when strangers are kind to us they must have some form of ulterior motive. Immediately we hold our bags a little closer to our chest, maybe walk a little faster and quite often we either ignore their comments or feel so uncomfortable that someone has said something nice that we ignore them or mumble a quick response rather than accept their kindness as just that.
And it's worse still that often we feel too afraid of being ignored or looked at like we have two heads to be nice to strangers or say what is really on our minds.
Perhaps this is why the mysterious person in Edinburgh has chosen to carry out his or her acts of kindness under the cover of darkness and has remained anonymous. If we actually knew who this person was, maybe we would question their motives. Again we may wonder why we only got a tenner in the door, when her up the street with money to burn anyway got £20; and we would forget that this was initially just someone trying to do something nice and not trying to stir up trouble.
It makes me sad to think that this person felt they had to write "Do you believe in angels?" on the envelopes. Now, don't get me wrong. I believe in angels, I believe that they are there guiding us and helping us; but in this instance I prefer to believe in the kindness of strangers.
How much nicer would it have been for our mystery person to feel confident enough to write: "Do you believe people are still good at heart?" on the envelopes and wouldn't it be nicer still if such acts were not that uncommon that they merited a mention on the national news?
Maybe we should all bear that in mind the next time we want to say something nice or we are tempted ourselves to "pay it forward" .

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