Pay it Forward

Where were you the first time you were told to “pay it forward?” Were you the recipient of someone else’s good deed, or did a friend or mentor help you out of a pickle? Paying it forward is a fascinating concept with far reaching effects. According to’s Pop Culture Dictionary, Paying it Forward is defined as “an expression for when the recipient of an act of kindness does something kind for someone else rather than simply accepting or repaying the original good deed,” and it’s a concept that has been popularized through books, TV, movies, and theatre. Even Oprah launched her own Pay it Forward Challenge, where audience members went into their own communities with the goal of inspiring others to pay it forward.

At a time when everyone could use a little extra kindness, paying it forward has never been more important. Some are out of work and hoping that their local food bank stays open, others are doing their damndest to save the post office. Even beyond that, most of our nation has been cooped up for the past six months, and we’re cagey. We can all use a little extra love right now. So in that spirit, I present to you a list of ways that you can pay it forward:

The everyday kindness 

Everyday kindness is often overlooked as we move through the day-to-day: Proactively holding doors, offering to get something from the kitchen for our partners, making eye contact and saying thank you to the grocery store clerk. These are all simple ways to make someone’s day easier. These small acts can make a huge difference. A simple way to start is by considering what those around you could do to make your day a bit brighter, and doing that for someone else.

The technical know-how 

The open source community is uniquely positioned to contribute to one another's' projects. Because OSS depends on its users also moving the needle forward, the opportunity to pay it forward becomes inherent in our everyday work and projects. Have you been struggling with a particular bug in someone else’s code? Submit a patch that will make it easier for everyone to benefit from the project. 

The community builder

What do you consider to be your core community? Is it the neighborhood where you live or your online network of fellow makers? Aiding those within your network will have long-reaching effects that will leave your community better than you found it. Start a catalyst by asking around to see who needs help, and be proactive about seeking out ways to volunteer your time, offer your talents, or donate your treasure. 

The call to action

Check in with organizations and nonprofits that bring value to your community. See what their needs are (I promise you they’re in need of something), and fill the gap. Looking for low hanging fruit? Many nonprofits depend on volunteers and pro-bono work to get their websites built and up to date - how could you make an impact there? If website building isn’t your thing, offer to donate time by editing content, creating graphics, or launching a social media campaign.

The I’ve been there before

Where were you during the hardest point in your career? Were you laid off, struggling to make ends meet, working in a toxic environment, or just graduating from college and looking for a foot in the door? Consider what you needed then: Was it a shot at employment, or was it a mentor? You can provide both today by engaging with your network and putting the call out to those who need support.

Paying it forward is a two part process: Doing something kind, and then instilling in the recipient the desire to do something kind for someone else. It’s all of our responsibility to make the world a kinder place, and the impact is tangible: If 100 people in the OSS community did one kind act in the next month, and set off a chain reaction of one more person doing one more good thing per month for the next year, that’s nearly 1,200 acts of kindness in the next year. And even better, if they continued to create one act of kindness per month for an entire year, that’s an exponential number if acts of kindness started by our very own community. 

How will you pay it forward?