OK so, if you’ve been coming around here any length of time, you know that some stuff bothers us.
Like, overfocusing on brand and ranking when you’re choosing the bschools you want to apply to.
Like, neglecting good manners and not saying ‘thank you’ when someone does you a kindness.
Like, ohdunno like several dozen other things you’ll hear us griping about on a regular basis here on the blahg.
Well, here’s one that we’ve been stewing over for ages – years, really – and we’re finally going to post about it because even though it does not directly affect the BSer’s process of applying to bschool, it may come up for some of you – and heck, this is our blahg so we can rant about whatever we want to.
Today’s snarky issue is,
Why in heck do people say “Pay it forward” when they mean “Pay it back”?!????
You remember of course when the whole concept of “pay it forward” first emerged on the scene. It was that movie, you know the one, with the kid?
No, not Macaulay Culkin and Home Alone. The “I see dead people” kid.
Yeah, right. Him.
Haley Joel Osment.
(Hmm, wonder what happened to that guy?
Anyway, he had that OTHER movie called, what was it?
PAY IT FORWARD.
And the whole premise of the movie is about doing random nice things for total strangers JUST BECAUSE.
You’re alive on this earth, and that alone is a reason to do stuff for others.
So you pay it forward.
You act when you don’t have to.
You make a gesture with the Universe.
You try to help. Not because you have to. Not because you have a debt to repay. Not because anybody is watching or cares. Because it’s your aesthetic.
You’re definitely not doing it because of what others have done to help you.
You’re doing it because it’s your nature. It’s who you are.
We see all these earnest BSers talking about how they have gotten such blessings in life, how they’ve been helped by mentors and the kindness of others, and they want to pay it forward.
You want to pay it back.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
There’s no less nobility in paying it back.
That doesn’t discount the value of what you’re doing in any way.
It’s just not PAYING IT FORWARD.
To pay it forward is to, like, do something because it’s what you do. Do something because you care. Do something regardless of what’s been done to you.
It has nothing to do with resetting the scales, or balancing things out, or telling the universe you’re grateful.
(OK, maybe it does have something to do with that, but more on a macro scale – not a micro one. It’s not about scorekeeping. It’s about who you are.)
OK, rantover. You get the point.
And we know that this is yet another snarkism.
This is clearly not how others see the phrase.
Plenty of people out there are perfectly fine with the idea of “pay it forward” to mean, making an effort to help someone else because that’s what someone did for you.
No problem. We can roll.
But we do have to point out: IT’S NOT THE SAME.
This may come down simply to our obsession with language. We care about clarity, and precision. We work very hard to say what we mean – and we work hard to coach others to do the same.
Clear words, clear writing – that means there’s clear thinking. These things are related.
If you mean sortathesamething, yeah, OK, you’re in the ballpark.
But please know that if we read that phrase in your essay, we gonna balk.
Nobody is really all that selfless (or very few of us are). Call it what it is. “Pay it back” is perfectly fine and equally noble – and more accurate.
We dig on accuracy.
It’s just how we’re wired.