Paying it forward.

The idea of doing a good turn for some one else seems to be less fashionable than the majority of people in the UK would like. Certainly, random acts of kindness appear to be popular social media memes but as a nation we haven’t really embraced it properly. Or so it seems to me.

I must admit I do try to consider others in my daily meanderings and it isn’t unusual for me help some one if they ask. I’m also lucky enough to have friends who do the same.  Take my friend Hannah for example. She lives in Portsmouth with her two little ones and travels by bus quite often to meet up with friends and visit social groups. It’s through these usual travels that she highlighted a most ingenious idea.

Most people who use public transport try to get the most out of our over priced bus fares by buying themselves a day out ticket. This allows them to travel as many times as they like in one day. Originally you could buy a return ticket if you were just doing a round trip, but the companies that run our buses soon cracked wise that if they did away with the return, then most people would switch to the more expensive – but still cheaper than a one way ticket each way – day out ticket. This of course, meant that some people were finished using their ticket well before the end of the day. While in my town, if we think we might not use it we may well pass it to a friend or just stuff it in the bin; Portsmouth has a better idea.

Travellers exiting the bus with their still valid ticket will attach them to the bus time table at the bus stop they’ve just stopped at. These clearly displayed tickets are available for people take. Thus giving new passengers waiting for the bus the opportunity to use the still valid ticket for the rest of the day, for free! This struck me as brilliant idea and the impression I got from Hannah’s tale was that this is a regular routine. Bus passengers paying it forward whenever they get the chance.

Unfortunately, where I live, this type of paying it forward seems unusual.

Maybe it’s because we’re too busy trying to make our way to work. Or we’re struggling to navigate the seemingly harsh realities of life, in town where the Government recently highlighted one of our housing estates as the poorest in the country. I’m not sure, but I do know that paying it forward or random acts of kindness can be a part of everyday life. It can be something we automatically do without thought for what we might gain from it.

Back in March, Hubby and I paid a visit to the North West of America. It was a trip we’d long promised ourselves and the place we chose to stay in definitely didn’t disappoint.

By now everyone has heard of the town of Port Angeles, thanks largely to those vampire books (sorry to disappoint but it looks nothing like the films, they were all shot in the much cheaper Portland area). That wasn’t the reason we chose to visit though. I’m an outdoor girl by genetic nature and my reason for visiting the Olympic Pennisula was the vast stretch of green known as The Olympic National Park. I could wax lyrical about how amazing it was but you don’t have all day, so I’ll get to my original point.

The community of Port Angeles is just that, a working community that cares not just about their own back yard but about everyone else’s. And I don’t mean in a nosy way. Our hostess told us that she very rarely socialises with her neighbours, but if they needed help at any time she’d be there, along with the rest of the street. But we didn’t have to take her word for it that people were tuned into their social conscience. There were tiny things that tipped us off to the way the people of Port Angeles, and indeed most places in America, greased the wheels of their community. Not least the phenomena known as the “Take a Penny Leave a Penny” tray.

It amazed me the first time I saw it at the Chevron station on the corner of the street where were staying. I’ll be honest, Hubby and I thought it was a charity collection thing and we both put all of our small change in it the first few days we were there. It wasn’t until Hubby was short a few cents in change for his coffee one morning, that the cashier pointed out what it was. He marvelled at the idea and was still chuckling about it several hours later.

For those of us not familiar with the concept the idea is quite simple. If, like so many of my friends, you hate carrying small change around, when you buy something you pop your coins into the tray next to the till. Then in a similar way to the bus tickets of Portsmouth, if the next customer is a penny or two short on their coffee or loaf of bread, the cashier simply takes it from the tray. The idea being, that the next time they have small change, they put it in the tray for the next person who needs it. Of course, as the cashier informed us, there will always be one or two individuals who take more than they leave but that’s to be expected. It still made us think though.

All the times when we were living below the bread line when our kids were small and one of those trays would’ve meant we could buy a pint of milk for their breakfast. Being a penny short can mean the difference between eating and not eating sometimes. Thankfully we’ve come a long way since then but still, there are people we know who are still living that way. Maybe a tray like the one in the Chevron station could help them? It’s a small thing, but like the bus tickets it can mean a lot.

Of course unless you’ve ever been in the situation where you actually need these acts of kindness and consideration, it can be difficult to understand how important they are. But if we can make these simple actions regular habits then we don’t necessarily need to understand how valuable they are. They’re small things after all. They cost nothing really if you think about it.

Maybe we should all give it a go. I’ve started looking for small ways I can pay it forward. Recently, I passed on a parking ticket with an hour left to a fellow driver.

Try it for yourself. The next time you have a valid bus ticket or parking ticket you’re not going to use, pass it on. Ask the guy at the local shop about having a take a penny tray, it’s worth it. No gesture is too small. Paying it forward doesn’t have to be hard work.

It’s a small lift for someone else, but if everyone does it, together we can rise. And it makes you feel fuzzy inside.

Go on, start today.





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