Buying coffee for the person standing in line behind you at Starbucks. Allowing someone else to take that prime parking spot you had been waiting for at the mall. Buying cold bottled water for a road repair crew.
These are just some of the random acts of kindness performed last year on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 by those people who participated in the first "Pay It Forward," a Facebook event created by Fort Lee Fire Chief Keith Sabatino to honor those who sacrificed their lives on September 11, 2001--especially the 343 firefighters.
"Firefighters go into burning buildings and help people they don't know and they don't look for anything in return," Sabatino said. "Pay It Forward is based on that concept--do a random act of kindness for one person and ask nothing in return.
The concept came to Sabatino last July while watching the 2000 movie Pay It Forward starring Kevin Spacey, Haley Joel Osment and Helen Hunt. Considering the power that the collective impact of each simple act of kindness would have on the world, Sabatino decided to use social media to create a social movement. That day he created a Facebook page inviting his friends to attend the event and asked them to invite their friends, in return.
"The tenth anniversary of 9/11 was coming up and I thought asking people to join me in doing random acts of kindness would be a great way to honor those who died and make it a better day for those who live," Sabatino explained. "My goal was to get 1000 people."
Within the hour 200 people had signed on. By the end of the night, he had already reached his goal of 1,000.
"I couldn't believe how fast 'Pay It Forward' took off," Sabatino said.
By the time of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 over 85,000 people had committed to do a random act of kindness. One of the people who joined Sabatino's Facebbok page is Catherine Ryan Hyde, the author of Pay It Forward, the novel upon which the movie was based.
This year, Sabatino hopes to double that number. In the two weeks since he's launched this year's Facebook page, over 24,000 invitations have gone out and more than 2700 people have committed.
"24,000 invitations have gone out in just two weeks," Sabatino marveled. "And that doesn't include how many more times it will be passed on."
"I wanted to take a really bad day in history and find a way to make it better," he said.
Sabatino reported that a fire department in Arkansas got involved in promoting this event.
Even Sabatino's eight-year old daughter Isabella pays it forward. In her after-school program she plays with an autistic girl who, because of Isabella's patience and kindness, has for the first time connected with another child.
"My friends ask me why I play with her, but I play with her because I want to and it makes her smile. I like to make her smile."
Here's how 'Pay It Forward' works:
Look for opportunities to help someone; do something nice for someone you don't know and from whom you expect nothing in return; if the person wants to thank you or pay you back, ask them instead to “pay it forward” by doing something nice for three people they don’t know and asking all three to do the same; if someone does something nice for you, make a note to perform three acts of kindness for three people you don’t know, and so on.
To learn more about the “Pay it Forward” Sept. 11 event, or to sign on or leave a wall post, click here.