Pay It Forward Is an Offering
When we see pay it forward as extending our gifts to the world, we are making an offering that implies we are equal voyagers on this planet. To me, equal voyagers means we see all of us as “citizens” in the broadest sense, that we are alive and deserving of life. We are born into a specific family, geography, time and culture; not of our choosing. Therefore, inherently there are places and spaces of more or less supports for a life “worth living”. We are inter-dependent, we need one another to support our collective lives and that of our Mother Earth.
Did you know that the early forms of philanthropy as a form of paying it forward began as a philosophical ideal? It then morphed into an educational ideal of what it meant to be fully human. From Wikipedia.org comes this historical precedent:
The Ancient Greek view of philanthropy—that the “love of what it is to be human” is the essential nature and purpose of humanity, culture and civilization—was intrinsically philosophical, containing both metaphysics and ethics. The Greeks adopted the “love of humanity” as an educational ideal, whose goal was excellence (arete)—the fullest self-development, of a body, mind, and spirit, which is the essence of liberal education.
This classical view transformed over a few centuries into good works provided by the growing number of religious orders of nun and brothers. The first more modern impulse was to care for disadvantaged children through the Foundling Hospital in 1741 by Captain Thomas Coran. Capt. Coran was appalled by the number of abandoned children living on the streets of London. He used his wealth and that of those he could influence to build and staff this safe place.
An early woman on the scene in the middle-late 1800’s was a social reformer, Octavia Hill. This middle-class born woman used her intellect and influence to create social housing and open spaces for the poor. In addition, she used her influence to preserve historical and natural spaces for the enjoyment and well-being of her fellow citizens.
Meet Octavia Hill
I bring Octavia Hill to our minds and hearts here mostly because her words over 119 years ago ring so much loudly today. When a portrait of her by John Singer Sargent was presented to her in 1898, she said this:
When I am gone, I hope my friends will not try to carry out any special system, or to follow blindly in the track which I have trodden. New circumstances require various efforts, and it is the spirit, not the dead form, that should be perpetuated. … We shall leave them a few houses, purified and improved, a few new and better ones built, a certain amount of thoughtful and loving management, a few open spaces.
But, she said, more important would be “the quick eye to see, the true soul to measure, the large hope to grasp the mighty issues of the new and better days to come – greater ideals, greater hope, and patience to realize both.
It is in Octavia Hill’s name and spirit that this article is written. We know the US has seen an exponential growth in the number of philanthropic causes, organizations and foundations. However, the root causes of poverty, veteran care, homelessness, poorly and under-educated children, difficult if not impossible at times access to appropriate health care, climate changes, and/or undocumented immigrants and refugees, are still underground. It feels in 2017 as if what we’ve attempted to care for through these philanthropic endeavors is falling over from its weight at the top.
Where are we now?
I am sure that many if not all of us are involved in some type of philanthropic or pay it forward endeavor through volunteering, serving on non-profit boards, and/or make donations to our schools and community organizations.
This initial conversation for Pay It Forward dares to bring forward Octavia’s call to our future:
the quick eye to see,
the true soul to measure,
the large hope to grasp the mighty issues of the new and better days to come – greater ideals,
I look forward to your thoughts on how we women in the 21st century can begin to answer her. This will be a long conversation in the aggregate, however if we are to begin, we need to begin now. With where we are.
Our eyes – What do we see?
Our souls – What is it we must measure?
Our hopes – What are the mighty issues of our day – and of dreams of better days to come?
Send me your thoughts, eyes, hopes and dreams. Let me know what you’d like to engage, learn and be motivated with respect to this call!
All of you. We need each of us to weigh in.