Kate Griffiths has had some amazing conversations in the last week about purpose, passion and business and how people spend their time. She distils the essence of them as a way to start a conversation around paying it forward, now a global movement. Is it all about selfless giving on one day a year or a way of life?
It is clear that some have found my vision for the world that I want to see as highly unrealistic. How can it work because everything evolves around money or does it? Doesn’t it come back to what we value as individuals and as a society and actually taking the time to think about that? Knowing that when we come together to do that then the result can be even more powerful. The world we live in is complex and so collaborative sensemaking is needed to come up with solutions.
This weekend I watched the 2000 film Pay it Forward. It shows what happens in the lives of ordinary people when people pay it forward. In one situation a partner of a law firm gave a guy who had had a run of bad luck, the keys to his jaguar with no strings attached. Initially the person who was helped was incredibly sceptical and would not accept such generosity. Over time he discovered that the partner wanted to help him because another guy had helped get his daughter seen in a hospital when she was having a really bad asthma attack. And so it goes on. When the whole story is unravelled, it seems to come about because of an assignment given to students in a social studies class. One of them develops the concept of pay it forward and says that if each person helps three people with no expectation of a return and then they go on to help three more people and so on think about the multiplier effect.
In an ironic twist of fate however, the main protagonist, the young boy, dies when he tries to stop older kids bullying one of his friends and is knifed for his troubles. When I watched that part of the film, I was reminded of the story of Jesus and the everyday miracles he carried out whilst he was alive until he was silenced. I ask myself what will it take for random acts of kindness however large or small to start becoming a way of life. Similarly Socrates was forced to drink a cup of hemlock because Athenian society could not deal with him. Does someone have to die like Socrates and Jesus did for society to transform?
Socrates’ death, as Alain de Botton writes, is an extreme example of how to maintain confidence in a position when it has met significant opposition. This is not a plea to encourage defiance or the belief that we are never so right when others think we are wrong. It is vital that we can see other perspectives ad know when to flex our positions. In a storm I would rather be the tree that can bend then the more solid oak that can be destroyed if the wind is very strong because it does not know how to bend.
The question I am mulling over is where do you draw the line with type of generosity? In one conversation I had this week someone said that we are entitled to earn a certain amount and that we owe it to ourselves to put a value on our services. I believe that entitlements such as often unconscious belief I am entitled to meat every day is part of the reason that this society is in the mess it is in. On the hand I recognise that if we keep on giving then we can become depleted or be seen as a people pleaser.
The key is to know your limits. What are your boundaries? Sometimes you won’t realise what they are until they have been stretched too far. A pattern for me is that I fall in love with an idea and do everything I can to make it real only to realise that no one else, not even the founder, is working that hard. It’s at that point that I realise I need to step back.
Kindness starts at home. You need to be clear about what you stand for, how far you are prepared to go for someone else’s idea. Your journey is unique to you and if you expend all your energy on fulfilling another’s dream then your essence can get lost. Yes in your desire to change the world, you can be too kind.
So is paying it forward about the small things in life like giving another child a lift to their after school activity to help out their parents or is it something more profound? Can it be a way of life or is it better to focus this activity on one day a year as the pay it forward movement tends to do? What do you think?
Kate Griffiths has worked as a change consultant and coach in a range of organisations for over twenty years. She now works primarily with conscious business owners and leaders that recognise the old paradigm way of doing things does not work and want support in determining what the new ways of doing business look like. She is passionate about creating conversations that lead to change and has developed her own process to do that called connection through conversation. She also leads mindfulness workshops and leadership programmes for business owners.