pay it forward film imageKate 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.

Is paying it forward a way to live life or just once a year?

17 thoughts on “Is paying it forward a way to live life or just once a year?

  • November 28, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Kate, I’m glad you wrote this post, because I’ve been thinking a lot about this ‘pay it forward’ idea (e.g. LinkedIn skills endorsements) and I don’t subscribe to it. It’s just a cool-sounding form of giving in order to get. It reminds me of Stephen Covey’s ’emotional bank account’ idea: living life as though you’re running a double entry bookkeeping system. Giving without wanting or expecting anything in return is like unconditional love. Give, give, give. Expect and want nothing. When something is received, give thanks. I think this is the key to living a peaceful and fulfilled life.

    • November 28, 2013 at 10:42 am

      Meant to reply to you directly Jack. I am doing Cate’s Conversation Challenge in December which is to connect with as many peeps as possible. Would love to reconnect with you too. Let me know if you are up for it 😉

      I guess one of the reasons I wrote this post is that people have said that I give too much and I am beginning to wonder if that’s possible.

      • November 28, 2013 at 1:54 pm

        people have said that I give too much

        I can understand how people can see it that way. The reciprocation mindset seems to be the norm. Sometimes I feel like I’m running an unpaid NPD unit for the consulting sector and have to stop myself feeling unappreciated and bitter. I can’t stop these thoughts and feelings arising but I try to become aware of what’s happening as quickly as possible and let the thoughts and feelings pass.

        Hope this makes some sort of sense.

  • November 28, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Thanks for taking the time to reply Jack and I agree about the linkedin endorsements. I only endorse people for skills that I have seen them demonstrate. I have had people endorse me for stuff that’s not even on my profile! It becomes fairly meaningless really.

    I also think it is important to be able to receive otherwise the good will can run dry. What are we giving? Our time, our skills, our energy?

    • November 29, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      Yes, Kate … be open to receive, but don’t have the reciprocation mindset. Are you familiar with Otto Scharmer’s egosystem/ecosystem distinction? (If not, take a look at this: I see ‘pay it forward’ as a product of “egosystem” consciousness.

      • November 29, 2013 at 11:12 pm

        I know of Otto Schamer but need to check that out. Thanks for posting the link Jack.

  • November 28, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    I do subscribe to paying it forward, I never count or concern myself on how much I give, but it was not always like this. I have created a revenue stream that requires 15% of my time (I do not have a lot of money I hasten to add, but I work with the ‘concept of enough’) … so the rest of my time I give away… I keep acquiring knowledge and I share it…

    I receive plenty too!! In terms of witnessing people’s personal growth, their business and also in their belief of themselves… I receive enormously when I see connections I have made blossom and go onto deliver something special for others.

    If we do good work and give to those who perhaps do not have a lot of money for our services, our reputation as a good provider grows anyway and in time we could well be introduced to those that have the means to pay far more… I do not question whether the universe will provide, it always does… what we have to make sure is that we are following the purpose we were put here to do!

    • November 29, 2013 at 5:23 am

      Absolutely Chris it is about trusting the Universe and the Universe does provide but first and foremost it comes down to our own energetic vibration. What we sow energetically is what we reap. The more you come from a heart space rather than a head space, the more it will grow for you and your clients.

  • November 29, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Hi Kate yes Pay It Forward what a great concept and thanks for the reminder to be more mindful and not forget to quickly about the giving back. As we are sometimes just to overwhelmed with the other stuff in our lives and sometimes forget to ask ourselves what are we greatfull for.

    • November 29, 2013 at 11:10 pm

      Welcome David and thanks for your thoughts. A daily gratitude practice is a great idea.

  • November 29, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Hi Kate, another thoughtful, heart felt piece, so thank you.

    Being a fan of Charles Eisenstein, I subscribe to a view that so much of what we value as being of value is external to us. We have been conditioned that this is THE stuff and because it is easy to measure, we also align ourselves to it as being part of ourself, my car, my house, my title, and so on.

    The reality, in my opinion, lies in the staff that is hard to measure, hard to find externally, because it is internal, and society places little or no value (as in terms of a monetary value) on it.

    Because of interest bearing debt,we continue to turn anything we can find into a good, such as a forest, such as water, and anything we would happily do for nothing, we want to turn it into a service, e.g. child care.

    It is a vicious circle and I am not sure how we get out of it, other than to create something new and drop the old…..which is what I believe is happening more and more, every day. People are standing up and saying, “You know, enough is enough”, and I also feel, this has now got personal.

    Imagine in the way back there, someone said that you know one day a footballer would be earning 400 times more than a nurse who could save your child’s life, they would have said we were crazy, but that is exactly where we are today. Should one ever have that moment, where our child’s life is under threat, what would we be prepared to pay to save that life?

    In the meantime, we have no idea the impact we can have on anyone who comes into our lives, a smile, a cup of coffee, giving with no expectation, we can make a difference. There must be countless stories where an act of giving changed a person’s life, and each of us can do that, and no training is needed, just give from your heart.


    • November 29, 2013 at 11:09 pm

      Beautiful sentiments as always Colin with so much to reflect on. I yearn for the full creation of a values based society so the disparities you speak of & the rape and pillage of the planet become a thing of the past. I am also reminded of sth I read earlier this week and that is that smiling people get more done for them as they have to do less or as I always say smile it increases your face value 🙂

      • November 30, 2013 at 8:36 am

        Thank you Kate. I love that phrase, “Always smile as it increases your face value”.

  • January 21, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    Hi Kate, I wonder whether the idea of obligation might go some way to meeting your question about entitlement.

    Instead of framing the question in terms of “what am I entitled to?”, creating a society that asks “what am I obliged to do/give/pay?” leads to a more genuine exchange of value. In such a system, I am entitled to nothing but I have an obligation to pay a fair price to people I do business with.

    • January 22, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      Tim thanks for wading in with your thoughts, it’s lovely to connect with you. Totally agree that entitlement is one of the things holding us back in society at the moment. Not sure about obligation because that sounds like duty which can be the kiss of death for many. I do wonder if it’s about modelling what you believe and watching stuff unfold from there. Been feeling really abundant of late and have watched it coming back to me in other ways…

      • January 23, 2014 at 12:06 pm

        It seems to me that the problem with entitlement is that it leads to passivity. If I have a right to something, I expect the state or politicians or some other third party to enforce it on my behalf. This creates passivity and often a sense of powerlessness. Whether obligation or duty are exactly the right terms, they at least imply that we must all take an active role in creating the future we wish to be part of.

        • January 23, 2014 at 4:41 pm

          I am not into entitlement other and wholeheartedly agree with how you see it Tim. The challenge how to encourage others to behave differently and I think the most effective way is by modelling what we want to see in the world and by coming from a place of love and I don’t mean the mushy kind. I mean the type that at times will tell someone directly what is not working and risk it blowing up in their face rather than avoiding the potential confrontation.

Comments are closed.