In Brief—The act of doing a good deed without the expectation of praise or payment can change another person or the world for the better. It makes no difference whether the gift is small or large, monetary or intellectual, simply the act of giving freely is one of the greatest forces on Earth. Make it part of your life and practice it as often as you can.
The Power of Altruism—
A young boy forges the first link in a chain of altruism, the spark. Pay It Forward, a tear-jerker with a positive message, is a movie that illustrates the value of giving without the expectation of receiving something in return. Haven’t seen the movie, read the book or seen it on the Internet? Think of it as a spark.
Though they didn’t know it, the spark was lit in me by certain teachers: Ms. Oyster in grade school; Ms. Rebord who taught history in high school; and Professor Smith at UCLA. Though many, teacher or not, have contributed to the person I am today, Page Smith who taught Colonial American History in my first year at UCLA is a good example of how a spark is kindled.
Colonial American History may sound boring, but Page Smith, the author of the definitive work on one of the founding fathers, John Adams, transformed an otherwise banal freshman course into an inspiration for those of us who were paying attention. At the beginning of every class, Professor Smith exposed us to five minutes of subjects that had little to do with colonial history but a great deal to do with growing educated citizens: Philosophy, Literature, Science, the American Constitution.
In the years after graduation from UCLA, my expanded interests led me to study subjects as diverse as the History of Greece and Rome, religion, the French Indochina War and the Selective Service System. I studied law and became an activist lawyer who kept hundreds of young men from being sent to the killing fields of Vietnam. I provided legal and draft counseling to those without at the Los Angeles Free Clinic; I became a speaker for the ACLU. The little spark became a fire.
In later years, as an executive in the television industry, I shared with my staff the bonuses given to executives, feeling that my staff, too, had contributed to the success of the corporation. Today, I am pleased to say that a former member of my staff has paid it forward, and a former member of her staff is now sharing her bonus. Though the other executives were unhappy with my actions, the benefits of paying it forward made it worthwhile for all of us and, maybe, just maybe, the corporate world is a little better for it. Despite that, I often wonder how many of the Wall Street gang who get millions of dollars in bonuses every year share those bonuses with their staff.
After moving to Sweden, I began teaching ceramics to a group of females who may have thought that ceramics would be an interesting activity to try. One of the women was so turned on by my enthusiasm that she is now one of the most successful potters in northern Sweden and attributes her success to my teaching. A spark.
I write occasional comments to the New York Times when an article or situation catches my interest. Some of my comments are well-received by readers while others are largely ignored, but my view is that whether appreciated by many or few, even one person might be moved by what I have to say and a little seed will have been planted that may grow where nothing grew before. A spark.
This little blog may be setting records for putting readers to sleep, and although it violates all the expert advice about brevity, my words and thoughts may kindle a little fire in some readers that can, I hope, lead to a better America. I’m just one old guy who has laid his thoughts out there for consideration. Maybe something I write will strike a spark in a reader. After all, they can’t kill me and eat me.
So even though what you do or say may seem small, do it in the hope that a little seed will grow. Read to your kids every day; they may grow into readers and become genuinely productive citizens who read to their own kids. Write that book; you may be awakening deep emotions in your readers or encouraging a reader to become a writer. Compliment the supermarket checker; it will certainly lighten her day and it could change her life for the better. Vote as if your single vote can change the course of the community or the nation.
A little spark can set the world on fire. Take that chance. Pay it forward.