Today, in 1752, Benjamin Franklin allegedly did his famous “kite flying in a storm” experiment. A little spark showed him the relationship between lightning and “electrical fluid,” as electricity was then called.
Ben Franklin is one of my heroes. Besides inventing the lightning rod, he is also credited with the glass armonica (sic), Franklin stove, bifocal glasses and the flexible urinary catheter. But one of the most interesting fields in which he is attributed with several “inventions” is in the area of social innovations.
In 1784, in a letter to Benjamin Webb, he wrote:
I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you […] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.
“Pay it forward” is used today to describe the concept of asking that a good deed be
repaid by passing along the good fortune to others. This idea has long been propagated in books and films. I first came across it in Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine,” one of my all-time favorite books.
In “Dandelion Wine,” published in 1957, main character Douglas Spaulding reflects on his life being saved by Mr. Jonas, the Junkman:
How do I thank Mr. Jonas, he wondered, for what he’s done? How do I thank him, how pay him back? No way, no way at all. You just can’t pay. What then? What? Pass it on somehow, he thought, pass it on to someone else. Keep the chain moving. Look around, find someone, and pass it on. That was the only way….
And so today, whether you’re out flying a kite, or having a catheter inserted, I invite you to “pass it on” whenever someone does you a favor, big or small. It’s how we’ll eventually be able to make this a kinder, softer, gentler world.