Paying it forward


Every day, we experience stresses and frustrations. It’s part of life. And a lot of these stresses and frustrations come from external factors – usually we blame them on the behaviour of other people. Someone pushes in front of you in line at the supermarket, cuts you off on the road, ignores something you asked them to do, speaks to you in a rude way…the list is endless.

In crowded cities where people work long hours, have to face queues of traffic, and struggle to find enough hours in the day to experience the perfect work/study-life balance, we’re all guilty of looking out only for ourselves.

Recently, I’ve been running a little experiment with myself. One of my biggest stresses in my day-to-day comings and goings is traffic. And more often than not, I let it get to me. Big time. It seems that, when you hit the road in the UAE, it’s every man (or woman) out for him (or her) self. Each time I turn the key in the ignition and bounce across my sandy car park, I feel like I’m preparing for battle. The defences go up and my hand hovers over the horn in anticipation of some near-miss. I’m ready and waiting for whoever wants to take me on.

Of course, for anyone who wants to survive a journey without having a nervous breakdown, this just isn’t a sustainable frame of mind. I arrive at my destination, heart-pounding, and recount every kilometre of my arduous journey to anyone who will listen. And this habit only reinforces the stress. Everybody has a tale to tell about the UAE’s roads – open this subject and you’re bound to have an enthusiastic audience, ready to open a Pandora’s Box of tales of bumps, scrapes, and road-rage.

Being a firm believer in the power of positive thinking, I’ve decided to try to change my situation. Clearly, there’s not much I can do about the traffic. Short of splashing-out on my very own helicopter, I really have no other option than to face it. So, I’m experimenting with paying it forward.

Now, I’m not saying this works every day – some days I’m just too tired or in a rush to get somewhere and tackle a thousand jobs – but, when it works, it REALLY works. It actually feels great.

The idea to ‘pay it forward’ came to my mind after watching a film of the same name. In this film, a little boy comes up with a brilliant social studies project – he’ll do something good for three people, and each of those three people have to do something good for another three, and so on. I’ve adapted it because I’m the only player, but, nevertheless, I’m paying it forward.

So, here’s what I do – each time one of my fellow drivers expresses a kind gesture towards me (slowing down to let me pull into their lane, for example), I’ll make sure I do the same for at least three other people. The positive person inside me hopes that these people will also do the same for others. One-by-one (or should I say three-by-three?), we’re all behaving in a more courteous way with each other. Paying it forward also reminds me not to be defensive on the road – if I’m acting in a bad way towards others, why shouldn’t they do the same?

Paying it forward works for pretty much anything and everything. Help someone out at school or uni, even if you don’t know them. That spare 20 dirhams in your purse? Put it in a charity box. Do something to help around the house. It can even be as small as holding the door open for someone, or offering someone a smile.

So, next time you have the chance, give paying it forward a go. Do it consciously. Do it, not because you want something in return, but simply because you want that person to pay it forward.