"God damn it, you've got to be kind.” ~Kurt Vonnegut
I don’t remember when I joined the Listserve, but I think pretty soon after, I had a good idea of what I’d write if I ever won. Then I waited. Well, that’s not true. I didn’t wait, I moved on, and life moved on. Jobs changed (bittersweet, but ultimately for the better), major life events happened (both happy and sad), a kid happened (freaking awesome!), and much glory was had (Google ‘Kinetic Grand Championship’). And then, a couple years later, I won! And suddenly, what I wanted to write felt trite and idealistic, and yet, at the same time, even more relevant than ever.
What I wanted to write, those years ago, was this – the idea of a ‘Pay-it-Forward Birthday’. We all have birthdays. We also all have networks, of friends, family (both by birth and by association), of community, and colleagues. I wanted to challenge you all to a Pay-It-Forward Birthday, where you reach out to your network and request that for your birthday, everyone gives you a present. In lieu of any material presents, however, everyone (yourself included) does something nice for a fellow human being or for the planet. It doesn’t have to be much, not much of anything at all. It’s not about the size of the gesture, it is about the intent. Since this is a gift people are giving you, it’s about doing something that they wouldn’t normally do, about intentionally going out of their way to do something positive in the world, ostensibly in your name. Some ideas I had come up with to get people started:
- Give change to someone that needs it
- Smile at someone on the street
- Be polite and civil in a mundane day-to-day interaction
- Pick up some trash by the side of the road or on the trail
- Make a more planet friendly decision in your food or transportation choices
- Plant a tree (native of course)
- Support a local non-profit or public radio station
This challenge comes with NO financial obligation, it’s all about simple little gestures that make the world a better place. I tried this for my 30th birthday. The highlights included Christmas presents being donated to kids in need (my birthday is in December), trees being planted, and garbage was collected on local trails. In the years since, I’ve thrown birthday parties where the entry fee was a non-perishable food item, which was then donated to a local food bank.
Here’s the rub, I’m 35 now. This seems somewhat naïve and ridiculous, and simultaneously, the world seems a darker place, in need of all the help it can get. In the in-between years, I’ve also become more aware of my own privilege. Not everyone has a network that has the capacity to give. And I realized that it doesn’t always cut it to ask others to do the work that I feel is needed. I feel more motivated to take it on myself to make the changes I want to see in the world, rather than exhorting others to do so.
So – I’ll leave you with this. If you like this idea, I encourage you to try it, especially if it’s small-scale and hyperlocal. If you think this is ridiculous idealism and optimism, that’s fine too. In the meantime, I’m going to roll my sleeves up, get more involved in my community, and teach my kid to be a better version of myself.
Keep it rooted, hands in the dirt, face in the sun,
Humboldt County, CA