Pay It Forward and Good Karma

Homeless in Ottawa, December 2009

Homeless in Ottawa, December 2009

A few years ago, I had a deep conversation with a religious co-worker. “But… if you don’t believe in God,” she asked, “how do you decide what’s good or bad?”

I am the first one to admit I don’t own a copy of the very much sought-after Life for Dummies – An Instruction Manual. Yet, even if my motto is “no gods, no masters”, I have a conscience, this wonderful aptitude that assists in distinguishing right from wrong.

Some religious people do extremely immoral things and some atheists are complete saints. And vice-versa, mind you. Basically, believing in God (or in a God) an claiming you are following his will doesn’t necessarily make you a decent human being. If you don’t trust me, check out the infamous Westboro Church.

I don’t know why I don’t believe in God. I’m not even against organized religion (although I very much dislike any kind of proselytism)—it must be nice to find some spiritual comfort in your beliefs, in a community. I just don’t believe. The idea of a God is as abstract to me as the colour red is to a blind person.

But at some level, I do believe in karma.

I think that if you try to be a good person in life it will eventually pay off. I think that actions have consequences, that you reap what you sow.

So I try my best to behave. You know, just in case.

On most days, I think the world is a pretty neat place and that it’s up to us, human beings, to make it ever better. I love random acts of kindness that don’t cost much but make everyone’s life better. You know, helping someone carrying the grocery bags, holding the door, picking up the cane an old man dropped, etc.

I’m not Mother Teresa. I can’t claim my actions are completely selfless since it makes me feel good to help someone and that I hope I will get that help too when I need it.

For instance, I enjoy helping tourists and newcomers because I’ve been in their shoes before and I did get some occasional help when traveling. So it’s only natural I “pay it back”—and yes, deep down I’m hoping someone will reach out as well if I’m in trouble.

Another example? I always feel incredibly awkward giving change to homeless people. What’s a quarter going to do, really? And dropping coins into a hat or a box without even looking at the person sitting on the ground may make me feel virtuous for a second but the feeling doesn’t last. So whenever I have the time, I simply stop for a second. “Hello sir,” I usually said. “I’m going to grab a coffee. Do you want one?” Or if it’s hot, I offer to buy a bottle of water or a soft drink. Every single homeless person I offered accepted gratefully (and I usually throw in a cookie or a small snack). One guy explained me that he rarely went hungry because places like The Mission of the Salvation Army does a good job of providing hot meals. However, these places only open during specific hours and he was getting really thirsty during the day. Through these simple interactions, I learned a bit what it meant to be homeless. And what did it cost me? $2 and a five-minute long conversation. That’s nothing.

On another note, I enjoy sharing my OCTranspo transfer when I no longer need it. In Ottawa, when you board the bus, you are given a paper transfer valid for 90 minutes. At the end of my trip, I usually hand it to someone about to board with a ticket in hand. It saves them the fare and it doesn’t cost me anything (and I don’t care if OCTranspo doesn’t approve, tickets are expensive in Ottawa!).

I am always amazed to see how supportive Canadians are of various charities and charitable events. When I worked at the office, United Way’s annual campaigns were a big deal. Most people I know contribute to charities or volunteer regularly. It has encouraged me to do the same—I support Kiva, an online lending platform connecting online lenders to entrepreneurs.

But I am always looking for new small ways to “pay it forward”… so, what do you do for “good karma”?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I give food instead of change. The change I give to buskers (usually more to TTC buskers as I know for a fact that they have to go through an audition process for a limited permit and they’re pretty good).

    Mostly, I’ve volunteered a lot of time and services. There are lots of causes and organizations to choose from, some are better than others. It takes time to research them and find the ones that are suitable.

    The biggest one, you know. One day I’ll be able to tell that story online but until then, I’ll just have to say I’m living proof that karma definitely works… my life improved in leaps and bounds when I went down that road.

    • You are very inspiring, and I mean it. I followed all your volunteer activities through the years and I found it amazing you gave so much back in terms of time, energy and creativity. And yes, you last “gift” was truly amazing. You deserve good karma!

  2. I donate money to various animal charities/causes and I volunteer every Sunday at the cat shelter in Grenoble 🙂 I admit that I’m much more sensitive to helping animals in need than people, but I’m not cold-hearted! I think seeing so many homeless and poor people in France has made me feel overwhelmed and so I try not to think about it….not saying that’s right, but it’s how I try to make sense of it all to myself.

    • There is nothing wrong with helping animal causes! We all have something we care about. I admit it, I’m not an animal/pet person although I do find them cute and want them to be happy/fed/treated fairly. But we need people like you! What matters is caring 🙂

  3. Geraldine Green on

    Well, aside from donating to various charities, I am a big believer in small acts of kindness. Just today, I selected the wrong option for my parking permit: I ended up paying until 8:00 pm tonight instead of 12:00 pm. As I was leaving, I saw a man who was about to buy his own permit. I pulled over and offered him mine, and he was really, really happy about it. It put a smile on both our faces!

    It’s little things like that that make a world of difference, and I don’t know about Karma, but I do get instant gratification from those brief opportunities to lend a helping hand, so it’s all worth it even just for that.

    Live generously, it’ll make you feel rich 😉

    • You are one of these people who make the world a better place and you have seriously good karma. Plus you are an inspiring friend… I don’t know if you realized how much you helped me and how much you taught me.

      So merci for being you! 😉

  4. As a Buddhist, I’m a firm believer of Karma. However, I also appreciate many values in Christianity, I learn them in France. My French family told me that those good values could be interpretated as humanity values, it doesn’t have to be associated with a religion.

    I also like to help when I can. But I had a very weird encounter. I was helping an old lady in Talensac marché with all her groceries, she was a bit sceptical, I can feel. And, my French family was all looking at me from a distance as if I was doing something very weird. Only when I passed by an old man who thanked me for doing that, I felt reassured. I don’t help homeless people in general because I believe with all the helps the government are giving, they could get themselves out of the situation. Most of them are usually drunk, they probably prefer to use the money to buy alcohol.

    • I think even as an atheist, I agree with many core values of most religion… and yes, I would label them as “humanity values”!

      Ah, Talensac… great market but lots of weird people there 😆 I once got yelled at because I was taking a picture of the place! French are sometime very shy when it comes to helping other people, I can see that now.

  5. This post made me feel better about the world 🙂

    In a city like Paris, which is always so busy and anonymous, it always seems as if when people do make an effort to do the little things it makes a big difference. So I like holding doors for people, giving up my seat on the metro and apologising for the slightest thing in a very British way. I give moeny to charity too, but sometimes that almost feels like a cop-out compared to doing something personally.

    It’s great that you buy homeless people a coffee – I think I’m too shy to do that!

  6. As a Christian, i find those Westboro people despicable! Just UGH !!! People like that set a bad example for other Christians! (Sorry rambling!)

    As for “pay it forward” and good karma, i give money to homeless and try to help others as much as i can. I think this is what we need to do a society: help and respect others 🙂

Leave A Reply