Created By: DAN004 on November 28, 2015 Last Edited By: Synchronicity on April 23, 2017

Paying It Forward

This person was shown kindness in the past. He wants to be helpful because of it.

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Trope

This describes a phenomenon in which a character, oftentimes in (severe) need of something, gets a help from another person. Said character becomes inspired by the kindness he's shown that he wants to be helpful to other people. Basically, the act of Pet the Dog has turned the dog into a helpful and morally better one. The character in question might be a side character that a hero (or another character) helps, or the hero of the story that another character helps - in fact, it's often how a hero and/or a Future Badass came to be. A villain who gets saved or otherwise helped may turn face and strives to be a better person, frequently by trying to atone for his sins.

The Paragon is often the one who tries to invoke this trope, by being kind to people so they in turn will be kind to others. This works in a similar but different way to The Golden Rule: There, you treat people the way you want to be treated. Here, you treat people the way you have been treated. Also, Ascended Fanboy is related to this; it is when they are inspired by their idol to be good to people, without necessarily them being saved by said idol, although they often overlap: the guy in distress who gets helped may then idolize said helper and be inspired to help other people in need, leading to The Knights Who Say "Squee!".

Supertrope to:

Related is Laser-Guided Karma (which is both positive and negative).

Compare Adopt the Dog (when showing some kindness turns you from a normal guy to a sympathetic/likable one), Contagious Heroism (when someone's heroic motives and spirit rub off on his surroundings), Morality Chain (a character is held back from turning bad because of someone he cares/who treats him well).

Contrast the dark side of "treating people the way you have been treated": Revenge, Freudian Excuse and Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.


Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Subaru Nakajima is introduced in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS as a weak-willed crybaby who couldn't look after herself even if her life depended on it (literally). After being rescued from a massive fire by the title character, however, she comes to hate her former self and resolves to turn her life around, eventually becoming one of Nanoha's star students and The Ace of the galactic disaster relief service in her own right.
  • One-Punch Man: The hero association got its start when the grandson of a multibillionaire was saved from a monster attack by an unknown man (actually Saitama, but he's completely unaware that this is the case).
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: After being shown mercy by Jonathan, Robert E. O Speedwagon eventually goes on to found the Speedwagon Foundation and become a great philanthropist.

Comic Books
  • Steel was inspired to become a superhero after being rescued by Superman.

Film
  • This is the central theme of Pay It Forward. As part of a school project, Trevor comes up with the plan to "pay it forward" by performing random acts of kindness for three complete strangers who must in turn each do good deeds for three other people, creating a charitable pyramid scheme that would quickly ripple through society and change the world for a better. The movie ends on a bittersweet note, as it takes the death of the hero for the movement to attract the media's attention and to eventually grow nationwide.
  • Mister Big, the crime boss of Zootopia, references this almost verbatim upon learning that Officer Hopps saved his daughter from being crushed by a giant doughnut. "I will take your kindness, and pay it forward." Rather than sending Hopps and Wilde to an icy tomb, Mister Big invites them to be his guests at his daughter's wedding reception, wherein he provides further clues in the Otterton case.

Light Novels
  • In the Ōkami-san series, the Otogi Bank performs favors for others in exchange for the promise of performing a later favor. Many of its current members were inspired to join the group because someone else helped them in the past. Also, in the climax of the anime adaptation, several of their past clients come back to aid them in their plan to rescue Ryuko from the Onigashima High School.

Literature
  • Good Gollum in Lord of the Rings, after Frodo has shown mercy and understanding. (ZERO CONTEXT EXAMPLE)
  • In Les MisÚrables, Jean Valjean strives to become a truly good person to all who come across him after he, while desperately poor and on the run from the police, attempts to steal from a bishop, and instead of having him arrested the man allows him to take them and leave with nothing but well wishes.

Live Action TV
  • In the final season of Person of Interest, it was revealed that at least three of the people the heroes have saved over the series have formed their own team. They are getting their own set of Numbers from the Machine and are saving the associated people from deadly danger. It is implied that there might be other teams of previous Numbers who are paying things forward this way.
  • In Quantico, Nimah Amin is a daughter of refugees from the Middle East, and states in an early episode that she wants to be an FBI Agent as a way of paying back the United States for helping her family.

Music

  • Clay Walker's "The Chain of Love" is a song about paying it forward: a man helps an old woman with her flat tire and refuses to take any payment, instead telling her "Don't let the chain of love end with you." The woman then goes to a restaurant and leaves a $100 tip for the waitress, with a note with it saying the same thing the man had told her. At the end of the song it is revealed that the waitress is the wife of the man who helped with the flat tire.

Video Games
  • Mega Man ZX Advent: Grey was saved by a group of Hunters in an unknown lab and then gets nursed back to health in their camp. This inspires him to save others in need, even the Raiders (who are the Hunters' antithesis).
  • Azure Striker Gunvolt: Gunvolt was a tortured test subject for a superhuman project (that creates Adepts) before being saved by Asimov, who would become his father figure. Some time after, in the events in the game, he decides to do the same to another young Adept named Joule, citing his past as why he wants to.
  • Sutherland in Dragon Age: Inquisition asks the Inquisitor to give him a chance to prove himself as a field agent (basically asking for a sword to scare some bandits away from his home village). Repeatedly putting your trust in him and his slowly-growing Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, instead of dismissing them as just another gang of upstarts, eventually allows them to become minor folk heroes in their own right. After Sutherland and his company decide to leave the Inquisition to take charge of their own hold, he asks the Inquisitor how he can repay their trust, and one of the available replies is to suggest that Sutherland pays it forward himself, finding a new bunch of promising hopefuls and helping them do what he and his own people accomplished with the Inquisitor's help.
  • Chrono Trigger: At the beginning of the game, there's a rich Jerkass who gives you 10 gold if you dance like a chicken. His children hate him, his wife is worried about how this affects their family, and there's two treasure chests in his house. Later in the game, you can run across the man's ancestors who ask you if you can spare some food. If you do, she swears that her children will learn to be generous towards strangers. If you return to the present, the man no longer gives you money, but he does let you open the chests, his children love him... and his wife is worried about his generosity.
  • In Dragon Age II, if you rescue Lia from the serial killer Kelder and then kill him in Act I, then in Act III, Lia will proudly introduce herself as one of the newest recruits to the City Guard.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • This article reports of a man who showed a random act of kindness on the day before he died which inspired a "Pay It Forward" movement.
  • Robert Fulghum tells a such a story. A man going to the big city to try to get a job is robbed. A nearby stranger gives him a little money to get started. The man turns it into a successful career and pays it forward just before he dies. Fulghum then recalls that many people have told him variants of the story:
    At least three things are certain: Our belief in the necessity of the generosity at the heart of the story; our shared capacity to be part of the chain of generosity; and our belief in the enduring power of the simple compassionate gesture. We want these things to be true. And they are.
Community Feedback Replies: 38
  • November 28, 2015
    eroock
  • November 28, 2015
    HeroGal2347
    So basically, Heel Face Turn combined with Because You Were Nice To Me? This would also be related to Mistreatment Induced Betrayal, because someone likely had to Kick The Dog so the hero could pet him/her.
  • November 28, 2015
    DAN004
    ^ Doesn't need to be specifically from a heel. Because You Were Nice To Me is another subtrope.

  • November 28, 2015
    AgProv
    • Good Gollum in Lord of the Rings, after Frodo has shown mercy and understanding.
  • November 28, 2015
    HeroGal2347
    One thing that should be pointed out — Pet The Dog is for a not-so-nice character doing something nice. This seems more general.
  • November 28, 2015
    DragonQuestZ
    Name makes it look like a redirect to Androcles Lion. Needs a better one.
  • November 28, 2015
    DAN004
    ^ well duh.
  • November 28, 2015
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ Okay, I missed that being listed, though it got buried in the wall of text.
  • November 28, 2015
    DAN004
    ^ How could it be buried when I put it on the very top?
  • November 28, 2015
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ I meant the Androcles Lion trope was buried. As for missing Needs A Better Title, I'm trying to fight off going to sleep too early.
  • November 29, 2015
    Koveras
    • Subaru Nakajima is introduced in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers as a weak-willed crybaby who couldn't look after herself even if her life depended on it (literally). After being rescued from a massive fire by the title character, however, she comes to hate her former self and resolves to turn her life around, eventually becoming one of Nanoha's star students and The Ace of the galactic disaster relief service in her own right.
    • Sutherland in Dragon Age Inquisition asks the Inquisitor to give him a chance to prove himself as a field agent (basically asking for a sword to scare some bandits away from his home village). Repeatedly putting your trust in him and his slowly-growing Ragtag Bunch Of Misfits, instead of dismissing them as just another gang of upstarts, eventually allows them to become minor folk heroes in their own right.
  • November 29, 2015
    acrobox
    call it Pay It Forward

    Someone does good deeds to you so you don't pay them back directly, but you pay forward good deeds to others in general.
  • November 29, 2015
    acrobox
    or Paying It Forward since I guess the former is already a work title
  • November 29, 2015
    DragonQuestZ
  • November 29, 2015
    DAN004
    ^^ I need to look out in Google to understand it (not being a native speaker), but I guess the name fits.

    BTW, does Pay It Forward have an example of this?
  • November 29, 2015
    Chabal2
    Chrono Trigger: At the beginning of the game, there's a rich Jerkass who gives you 10 gold if you dance like a chicken. His children hate him, his wife is worried about how this affects their family, and there's two treasure chests in his house. Later in the game, you can run across the man's ancestors who ask you if you can spare some food. If you do, she swears that her children will learn to be generous towards strangers. If you return to the present, the man no longer gives you money, but he does let you open the chests, his children love him... and his wife is worried about his generosity.

  • November 29, 2015
    eroock
    Film:
    • This is the central theme of Pay It Forward. As part of a school project, Trevor comes up with the plan to "pay it forward" by performing random acts of kindness for three complete strangers who must in turn each do good deeds for three other people, creating a charitable pyramid scheme that would quickly ripple through society and change the world for a better. The movie ends on a bittersweat note, as it takes the death of the hero for the movement to attract the media's attention and to eventually grow nationwide.
  • November 29, 2015
    StrixObscuro
    Comic Books
    • Steel was inspired to become a superhero after being rescued by Superman.

    Light Novels
    • In the Ookami San series, the Otogi Bank performs favors for others in exchange for the promise of performing a later favor. Many of its current members were inspired to join the group because someone else helped them in the past. Also, in the climax of the anime adaptation, several of their past clients come back to aid them in their plan to rescue Ryuko from the Onigashima High School.

    Video Games
    • In Dragon Age II, if you rescue Lia from the serial killer Kelder and then kill him in Act I, then in Act III, Lia will proudly introduce herself as one of the newest recruits to the City Guard.
  • November 29, 2015
    Chernoskill
    Would Saving Private Ryan count? Ryan gets told "make it worth it" (the fact that a whole squad of soldiers fought through France to get to him) or something like that when Captain Miller dies.
  • November 29, 2015
    DAN004
    ^ please give it more context.
  • November 30, 2015
    Koveras
    To add to my previous Dragon Age example: After Sutherland and his company decide to leave the Inquisition to take charge of their own hold, he asks the Inquisitor how he can repay their trust, and one of the available replies is to suggest that Sutherland pays it forward himself, finding a new bunch of promising hopefuls and helping them do what he and his own people accomplished with the Inquisitor's help.

    Also, another related trope: If someone is inspired to heroic actions by another hero in this manner, they may become The Knights Who Say Squee.
  • November 30, 2015
    ClockStopping
    I'm not super familiar with the book/musical so someone might be able to sum it up better but:

    • In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean strives to become a truly good person to all who come across him after he, while desperately poor and on the run from the police, attempts to steal from a bishop, and instead of having him arrested the man allows him to take them and leave with nothing but well wishes.
  • November 30, 2015
    Chernoskill
    "^ please give it more context."

    From what I remember, the elder Ryan, when standing at Miller's grave, desperately asks his wife if he was a good man, which she assures him he was.
  • December 8, 2015
    eroock
    Real Life:
    • This article reports of a man who showed a random act of kindness on the day before he died which inspired a "Pay It Forward" movement.
  • December 28, 2015
    Chabal2
    One Punch Man: The hero association got its start when the grandson of a multibillionaire was saved from a monster attack by an unknown man (actually Saitama, but he's completely unaware that this is the case).
  • July 4, 2016
    DAN004
    Bump
  • July 4, 2016
    SirHandel3
    Just put the fifth hat on it. I think it's ready.
  • July 4, 2016
    nielas
    • In the final season of Person Of Interest, it was revealed that at least three of the people the heroes have saved over the series have formed their own team. They are getting their own set of Numbers from the Machine and are saving the associated people from deadly danger. It is implied that there might be other teams of previous Numbers who are paying things forward this way.
  • July 24, 2016
    Gamermaster
  • October 7, 2016
    NateTheGreat
    Robert Fulghum tells a similar story. A man going to the big city to try to get a job is robbed. A nearby stranger gives him a little money to get started. The man turns it into a successful career and pays it forward just before he dies. Fulghum then recalls that many people have told him variants of the story:
    At least three things are certain: Our belief in the necessity of the generosity at the heart of the story; our shared capacity to be part of the chain of generosity; and our belief in the enduring power of the simple compassionate gesture. We want these things to be true. And they are.
  • October 7, 2016
    Petricareless
    • Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure: After being shown mercy by Jonathan, Robert E. O Speedwagon eventually goes on to found the Speedwagon Foundation and become a great philanthropist.
  • October 18, 2016
    StarSword
    TV:
    • In Quantico, Nimah Amin is a daughter of refugees from the Middle East, and states in an early episode that she wants to be an FBI Agent as a way of paying back the United States for helping her family.
  • November 3, 2016
    JujuP
    See Androcles Lion.

    Video Game
    • If Leon save a rdog earlier in Resident Evil 4, this dog will distract a particulart hard boss later, making him easier to shot at for a while.
  • November 3, 2016
    eroock
    See Androcles Lion / Character Witness when the favor is payed back instead of forward.
  • November 13, 2016
    Dawnwing
    Music:

    • Clay Walker's "The Chain of Love" is a song about paying it forward: a man helps an old woman with her flat tire and refuses to take any payment, instead telling her "Don't let the chain of love end with you." The woman then goes to a restaurant and leaves a $100 tip for the waitress, with a note with it saying the same thing the man had told her. At the end of the song it is revealed that the waitress is the wife of the man who helped with the flat tire.
  • November 14, 2016
    sailing101
    DAN 004 was bounced for using the TLP to get around his wiki suspension, this might need a new sponsor.
  • April 21, 2017
    Getta
    This act may turn a cynical person into an idealistic one.
  • April 21, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Film
    • Mister Big, the crime boss of Disney's Zootopia references this almost verbatim upon learning that Officer Hopps saved his daughter from being crushed by a giant doughnut. "I will take your kindness, and pay it forward." Rather than sending Hopps and Wilde to an icy tomb, Mister Big invites them to be his guests at his daughter's wedding reception, wherein he provides further clues in the Otterton case.
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