Unitive Kindness and Paying-it-Forward

Working together as “One” for a healing cause: Why this is the best medicine of all

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”  ~Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa

This statement by Mother Teresa has had a profound effect on my life’s work, which has evolved into a whole systems approach known as Mederi Care. In contemplating Mother Teresa’s words, I long ago realized that what I do and create as an individual can only go so far. To be able to manifest the true potential for the vision I hold for Mederi Care to be a leader in creating solutions to change the paradigm of the existing health-care model, is going to require a “We” effort of togetherness.

What we become and what we manifest in life is dependent on what we believe. We must not allow fear or pessimism to hinder us. In the final analysis, life is simple: What really matters is how much love and goodness we share with others and bring to all of our efforts. We are spiritual beings, even if we do not realize it.

The True Meaning of Spirituality

The word “spiritual” comes from the Latin word “spiritus,” which means vapor, breath, air or wind. Whatever the source, this sacred element dwells within each and every living being. Spirituality is non-dogmatic, non-judgmental, gender-neutral, non-patriarchal and non-exclusive. God desires union with us, not exclusion. 

In his book, Ethics for the New Millennium, the Dalai Lama reminds us that spirituality means to be concerned with the qualities of the human spirit that bring happiness to both self and others. This includes love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of harmony.

There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Paying it Forward

“Pay-it-forward reciprocity” is a type of cooperative behavior where people who have benefited from others return favors to people other than the benefactors, thus pushing forward a cascade of kindness. An evolutionary dynamic model has been developed to investigate how network homophily influences the evolution of the pay-it forward reciprocity.[1]

Doing good for others as an individual is wonderful, but when engaged cooperatively, health, happiness, and spiritual fulfillment are multiplied. This brings us a true sense of purpose, feeling, belonging, and fulfillment.  The latest research on this subject suggests that pay-it-forward reciprocity may not occur as myopic profit maximization, but elicits emotional rewards.[2]  Simply stated, we feel best not when we are doing something for ourselves, but when we are doing for others in a united way.

Observational studies suggest that behaviors, knowledge, and emotions spread between people with personal social ties. A “three degrees of influence rule” has been described which suggests that (1) behavior can spread from person-to-person via a diverse set of mechanisms, subject to certain constraints, and (2) as a result, each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has not met. Other researchers have shown that giving behavior can spread from person to person.[3],[4] Experimental studies convey a similar message that subjects are more willing to help if they have been helped before.[5],[6]

Our daily life is full of examples of pay-it-forward reciprocity. For instance, people hold the door for those coming afterwards in public places.[7] One explanation for this is that people walking ahead hold the door for us, and we reciprocate by offering the same courtesy to people following us. In a more significant example, the family members of a father who benefitted from organ donation from a stranger were eager to sign up as prospective organ donors, in the hope that they might be of help to someone in the future.[8]

We Are One

Returning to the idea of small actions creating change, what you send outward in life extends like ripples in the water, and magnifies as it travels.

Curious Kids: how do ripples form and why do they spread out across the  water?

Your attitude – creates ripples

Your body language – creates ripples

Your actions and reactions – create ripples

Your words – create ripples

Your thoughts – create ripples

Your feelings – create ripples

At the most basic and the highest levels of being, we are all connected as “ONE” and everything matters. This concept of unity underlies all that I do.

I do not aspire to do things in a big way. Instead, I believe that everything matters, from our attitude and thoughts to our actions and words. What we do in our own life, and even more powerfully in community with others, can have a far-reaching, positive effect upon our entire world. Rabbi A. Heschel said, “the fate of the world rests upon the work of each and every one of us and the perfection of our individual path.” I take this to heart. Thus, our Mederi-Care motto is “Together We Heal”.

One of my favorite parables from the Bible illuminates the power of the smallest action. In the parable of the mustard seed, the tiny mustard seed not only speaks to the degree of faith in the Lord, but also to the power of a little endeavor spreading out to great multitudes.

“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  ~Mark 4:30-32

The Butterfly Effect

In contemplating the far-reaching consequences of small actions, I’m fascinated by the idea of the butterfly effect. This theory suggests that the mere fluttering of a butterfly’s wings in one part of the world could contribute to stormy weather 10,000 miles away. One small event—a minor micro perturbation of air in a meadow, witnessed by no one—leads to a macro disruption affecting millions of people in the path of a hurricane.

In considering how this affects us in our daily lives, I believe that a loving word, an act of kindness, extending compassion toward all, and a genuine smile can make a difference in someone’s day, and perhaps in their life. What a beautiful world this can be if we all take small, positive actions every day.

As a community, we can encourage individual and collective spirituality. We can transcend self-interest for the benefit of humanity. Ideally, we will have benevolent leadership to bring us all together to work and live for the common good.

The Benefits of Benevolent Leadership

The word benevolent can be traced to the Latin bene, which means good, and yelle, meaning to wish. Benevolent leaders are those who create observable benefits, actions, or results for the common good. This refers to the shared benefits or positive outcomes for all or most members of a community.[9],[10]

This shift in attitude can really bring us to a true sense of meaning in our life.   Involving yourself with others and actively helping your neighbor and greater community, can bring core significance and purpose to your own personal existence.

Research pointing to the benevolent role of experiencing meaning in life, we anticipated that clusters characterized by higher levels of Presence of Meaning would be characterized by greater levels of well-being.[11]

Benevolent leadership is the process of creating a virtuous cycle of encouraging, initiating, and implementing positive change in organizations through:

a) ethical decision making and moral actions,

b) developing spiritual awareness and creating a sense of meaning,

c) inspiring hope and fostering courage for positive action, and

d) leaving a legacy and positive impact for the larger community.

Benevolent leadership is based on four paradigms of common good in organizational research: Morality, spirituality, positivity, and community.

(1) Morality paradigm: addresses business ethics, leadership values and ethics, and ethical decision making (focusing on leaders ethics and values);

(2) Spirituality paradigm: addresses spirituality at work and spiritual leadership (focusing on the inner landscapes and spiritual actions of leaders);

(3) Positivity paradigm: based on positive organizational scholarship and strength-based approaches (focusing on how leaders create positive change in organizations and the world); and

(4) Community paradigm: based on corporate social responsibility and corporate citizenship (focusing on leaders contributions to society and community service).[12]

St. Bonaventure on Happiness

Bonaventure - Wikipedia
St. Bonaventure

Since happiness is only the enjoyment of the highest good
and since the highest good is above,
no one can be made happy unless they rise above self,
not by an ascent of the body,
but of the heart.
But we cannot rise above ourselves
Unless a higher power lifts us up.
No matter how much our interior progress is ordered,
nothing will come of it
Unless accompanied by Divine aid.
Divine aid is available
To those who seek it from their hearts 

May Light and Love fill our heart with peace and joy and may we share that peace and joy with everyone we encounter.


[1] Chiang YS, Takahashi N. Network homophily and the evolution of the pay-it-forward reciprocity. PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e29188. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029188. Epub 2011 Dec 15. PMID: 22195019; PMCID: PMC3240652.

[2] Watanabe T, Takezawa M, Nakawake Y, Kunimatsu A, Yamasue H, Nakamura M, Miyashita Y, Masuda N. Two distinct neural mechanisms underlying indirect reciprocity. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Mar 18;111(11):3990-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1318570111. Epub 2014 Mar 3. PMID: 24591599; PMCID: PMC3964069.

[3] Fowler JH, Christakis NA. Cooperative behavior cascades in human social networks. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Mar 23;107(12):5334-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0913149107. Epub 2010 Mar 8. PMID: 20212120; PMCID: PMC2851803.

[4] Christakis NA, Fowler JH (2009) Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (Little Brown, New York).

[5] Bartlett MY, DeSteno D. Gratitude and prosocial behavior: helping when it costs you. Psychol Sci. 2006 Apr; 17(4):319-25.

[6] Chiang YS, Takahashi N. Network homophily and the evolution of the pay-it-forward reciprocity. PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e29188. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029188

[7] Santamaria JP, Rosenbaum DA. Etiquette and effort: holding doors for others. Psychol Sci. 2011 May; 22(5):584-8.

[8] Christakis N, Fowler J. Connected: the surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company; 2009.

[9] Bryson, J. M., and Crosby, B. C. (1992). Leadership for the common good: Tackling public problems in a shared power world. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[10] Daly, H. E. and Cobb, J. B. (1989). For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future. Boston: Beacon Press.

[11] Dezutter J, Casalin S, Wachholtz A, Luyckx K, Hekking J, Vandewiele W. Meaning in life: an important factor for the psychological well-being of chronically ill patients?. Rehabil Psychol. 2013;58(4):334-341. doi:10.1037/a0034393

[12] Fahri Karakas, BENEVOLENT LEADERSHIP, Desautels Faculty of Management McGill University, Montreal. Fahri Karakas, August 2009

   Send article as PDF   

6 Replies to “Unitive Kindness and Paying-it-Forward”

    1. Thanks for this. Some forty years ago a great yoga master taught me that when we face innumerable challenges and are still able to make spiritual progress, this inch of evolution, is equal to a mile during easier times. Blessings and gratitude for our troubling times…

  1. Beautiful Donnie! The quote from Bonaventure reminds me of the last line of Psalm 27;

    Kaveh El Adonai, Chazak v’yameitz libecha
    Have hope, make a connection to God,
    and you will be given a strong/joyful heart.

    Thank you!!!

  2. This is so Uplifting, just as you have put it right our kindness, love, compassion shown to the list or strangers can change not only their individualism but equally the community setting. Here in Uganda the Nurse Institutional motto says ”calling to serve” however a few put this into practice. Am much challenged to take a step forward to create a change in the world and uplift the health of the sick using this basics. Am so much delighted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *