“The greatest effects we have on the world are the ones we can never see.” – #PayItForward
#PayItForward: How to Be a Story without an Author
Gratitude is an emotion with glorious influence and long-term potential. To be grateful means that someone’s action uplifted you to a remarkable peak. Whether their moment was to bring you out of a funk or to raise your spirits in difficult odds, they made a lasting impact. Now imagine if the person you are grateful to did not have a name. Would it change the memory or make it more powerful?
Think about a strong and supportive moment from your lifetime. Perhaps it was simple. Perhaps it was complicated and profound or something in between. Regardless of the scenario, the results are enduring. Did you thank that person immediately? Maybe you paid them back in kind or paid it forward to another person in need. No matter the outcome, you were grateful.
Now imagine that same scenario played out by a person with no face or no name. You have no memory of who they were, only their action. Some would argue that this diminishes the nature of your temporary guide, but I argue that it greatly increases the impact and I am here to tell you why this is the truth! This is a brief tale of a story without an author.
“Because it proves that you don’t need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you’ve got.” ― Catherine Ryan Hyde,
It all happened during a rainstorm…
It was spring 2016 and a young couple were in a gas station getting directions to the local theatre for a new college production. The young man was dressed to the nines in black with a white dress shirt and red tie. His date was elegant in her stunning black dress and heels. His evening wear was as flawless as her hair and makeup. As is typical in Central Illinois, rain erupted an hour before the expected storm was to pass. It was a torrential downpour and this couple had five blocks to walk.
My car was unfortunately full to capacity with items and boxes for moving to my new office. I was unable to give them a ride. They asked a couple of customers for help or temporary use of an umbrella to which each respondent either ignored the couple or were unable to fulfill the request.
Every day in every region of the world there are stories being told. Unknown names and faces help in emergencies or in simple moments of respect and kindness.
I felt terrible for them as their night was only beginning. Then I remembered back to 2012 when I was in a similar situation, dressed well, and heading for a job interview with no coverage from the heavy rains. I was offered an umbrella and walked inside the building. Before I could get a name or offer some return, this unknown man said, “no problem” and moved about his day. I do not remember his face, his car, or anything distinguishing. What I remember was a tiny selfless act that improved my day. I did not get that job but it was of lesser consequence because I had a lovely story. The problem, or so I thought was I did not have an author.
As I prepared to drive away from the couple I looked in my rear view mirror to back up when I spotted two umbrellas in my seat. I paused and thought back to 2012 and my interview. I pulled next to the couple and held my hand and umbrella out the door and said, “Here! Take this!” it was the look on their face that fed an internal satisfaction. I never received anything other than a deeply thankful gesture and for that, I am personally grateful. Much like the man at my interview, I had become a story without an author. That grew to be a fond memory.
Every day in every region of the world there are stories being told. Unknown names and faces help in emergencies or in simple moments of respect and kindness. A man with a free hugs sign in an open air mall. A random stranger running across a highway to help an overturned car. A sudden heart attack assisted by a card-carrying CPR member breathing for a random passerby while the paramedics arrive. All of these are stories without authors.
“Our job on earth isn’t to criticize, reject, or judge. Our purpose is to offer a helping hand, compassion, and mercy. We are to do unto others as we hope they would do unto us.” ― Dana Arcuri
What makes their stories particularly powerful?
When you help another being, you become a temporary savior. It is a strong moment of connection that is hard to erase. You feel good about your nature and for a brief moment, you validate that you performed a good deed.
Now think about doing that same deed while wearing a mask and suit that covers your every distinguishing feature. Are you still good? Absolutely. Moments like that are when humans do ‘good for the sake of being good.’ You are not seeking payback or monetary prizes. You are not hoping for a spot on the evening news. You are not hoping for excessive gratitude or thanks. You are helping another person with no desire for a return on investment. During this act, you made a difference and became a story without an author.
Later that day, the person you helped may tell friends or family about your deed with no educated answer on who you are or your whereabouts. That is divine and special.
“Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.”― Iris Murdoch
The point of helping others is to help others. Intentions, while typically well-placed, can tarnish a good deed with immediate selfishness. The end result will remain equally helpful but gratitude can fade rapidly when you expect or demand a reward. Instead, try to help with zero expectation and do ‘good for the sake of good.’ The internal rewards are boundless and intense. That person you assisted will remember that a stranger took time out of their life to help. That person will know that in the darkest times at least one other human being is good. They will find their own light and pay it forward all because you took some time, removed bias and expectation, and became a Story without an Author.