Remember the good old days when Webster defined “interactive” as “people talking with each other or doing things together?” These were the analog years before cell phones and iPads. Today’s updated definition of “interactive” is much different. It has been reduced to nothing more than “a two-way flow of information between a computer and computer user.” No wonder I find myself worrying more than ever about my future and the future of my children.
In today’s society, human interaction is almost extinct and has been replaced by social media interaction. More specifically, face to phone and hand to device action. We see this more than ever as technology continues to replace almost all human contact and reasoning in our day-to-day activities. Unless we as a society embrace and uphold the everlasting need for basic human interaction and common decency in our declining social order, this new digital era will not only redefine humans as unessential, but its powerful momentum will eventually eliminate even our memories of the good old days.
I recently expressed to a friend my concern over the decline of human civility and compassion I see, mostly in public, as we combat Covid 19 and the devastating havoc it has inflicted upon the world. Since the outbreak of this pandemic, I have watched people physically attack each other in stores over cleaning products and toilet paper, argue over which direction individuals are pushing their grocery carts, and have personally been on the receiving end of numerous verbal attacks and mask shaming. P
rotests, violence, and vandalism have infiltrated our cities, and the color of our skin has become the color of politics in our democracy. Hatred and bigotry are on the rise in America and we have no one to blame, but ourselves. If we aren’t careful to preserve the fundamental aspects of humanity, the attributes that make us unique and more resilient than any other species, we will collectively usher in the “new norm,” a society void of all human standards, a nation of lawlessness and violence, and most of all… a world without hope!
As we continued our conversation, my friend shared a story with me that resonated. When paying for his breakfast at a diner recently, the cashier informed him his meal had already been paid for. She said a woman took care of it when she paid her own tab. I asked him if he could think of any reason why an unknown person would pay for his meal and not say anything, but he was clueless and even felt a bit uneasy about his good fortune.
Immediately, I remembered a movie I had seen many years ago and suggested to my friend the idea that he had been the lucky recipient of a random act of kindness and should simply accept the gift and pay it forward. I was referring to the premise of Pay It Forward, an inspiring film based on the novel of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde. In the film, a young student is given a class assignment by his social studies teacher to come up with an idea to change the world and to put that idea into action. He accepts the challenge by coming up with a concept to help three people, each in a way they could not help themselves. As payment, these three individuals must “pay it forward” by helping three others, setting into motion a chain of positive events.
When I began to research the term “pay it forward,” I discovered the Pay It Forward Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by the book’s author. The philosophy of this foundation is to act as a catalyst to inspire acts of kindness among strangers, generating a ripple effect from one person to the next, one community to the next. This act of paying it forward is only one example of what I believe is missing in today’s culture of digitally constructed communication, social distancing, and public isolation, and with the global health threat of Covid 19 literally shutting down our country, we are experiencing less interaction and more isolation than ever before.
Is it really possible to change the world through simple acts of kindness? I believe that realm of possibility exists within each one of us.
Who doesn’t remember the iconic Faberge shampoo commercial starring Heather Locklear? In the 80’s, it conveyed a brilliant and very similar marketing strategy based on the idea of personal networking, much like today’s social media. In the commercial Heather states, “When I first tried Faberge Organic shampoo with wheat and honey it was so good I told two friends about it, and they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on.” Well, the concept of paying it forward works in much the same way. When you reach out and help two people, and they help two people, you’re creating a spark that will eventually ignite a flame. Soon, others will catch on to your flame. Once that happens, you’ve set into motion a fire, or a movement, powerful enough to actually begin changing the world around you.
Many may think the idea of paying it forward is good, but too idealistic. With over seven and half billion people in the world, how can a few acts of generosity between strangers actually make a significant difference in our society? My answer, “Don’t worry whether or not you’re kindheartedness is changing the world. Instead, realize that paying it forward is changing you.” When you give of yourself and reach out to help others, a powerful phenomenon takes place in your own life. You may never know exactly how your act of generosity impacted another person, but at the very least, carrying out your benevolence can bring you joy, a sense of self-satisfaction, and an opportunity to physically interact with people.
As stated in the movie, “paying it forward requires an extreme act of faith in the goodness of people.” In other words, extending your kindness to someone in need is only the first step. The concept of paying it forward is about much more. It’s about keeping the human spirit of giving and helping alive and moving forward; one person at a time, one act at a time.
So when you choose to reach out to someone in need, whether it be a considerable life changing act of benevolence or an arbitrary act of kindness, be sure to make it known that you are paying it forward. Your benevolence can remain anonymous, but in order to keep the movement alive it is important to note that it was inspired by a previous act of kindness.
In Amesbury, MA, a woman who had recently lost her job was in line at the Heav’nly Donuts drive thru when the cashier told her that the car in front of her had paid for her coffee. She was so appreciative and grateful that she came back to the drive thru the next day and decided to “pay it forward” to the car behind hers, which resulted in a 55-person chain of paying it forward.
In Oklahoma, a restaurant owner noticed someone had been digging through one of her dumpsters for food, so she decided to write a letter to whoever that person was and post it by the dumpster. The letter read: “To the person going through our trash for their next meal, you’re a human being and worth more than a meal from a dumpster. Please come in during operating hours for a classic PB&J, fresh veggies, and a cup of water at no charge. No questions asked. Your friend, the owner.”
Do you find yourself, more than ever, reminiscent of the “good ole days? Are you concerned about the future of the human race in relation to the enormous influx of digital capabilities and the efflux of human interaction? If so, I challenge you today to plant a seed of benevolence and put forth a random act of kindness. Who knows, maybe the world around you, the one that’s falling deeper into darkness, will begin to show signs of great change and shine a little brighter! Remember, the human race is made up of people, not machines. Without more physical interaction and less social media interaction, how do we progress?
In the days ahead, as we continue to battle Covid 19, think about your loved ones, your neighbors, that person behind you in the drive-thru, and keep in mind: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop.
Lisa DeFelice is a freelance writer and the Founder and CEO of MadWorld Entertainment. She currently resides in Boston, MA.