Repaying Kindness with Kindness

Elaine Luddy Klonicki, Columnist

I got a phone call today from my brother, Mike, who said he had a trade-last for me. Don’t know what that is? I’ve heard the term my whole life, and it’s actually in the dictionary, but I’ve never encountered a person outside my family who is familiar with it.

The way it works is you let someone know that you’ve heard a compliment about them, and offer to trade it for a compliment they’ve heard about you. So you “trade last.” In our family, at least, if you can’t think of a compliment to pass on at that moment, you can owe them one.

In the case of my brother, I had introduced him to one of my friends, Anita. She needed to interview someone who raised donkeys as a hobby, which he did. When Mike asked Anita how she had met me, she told him it was through our writing group and, during their conversation, she praised my work. In addition to passing on the trade-last (for which I still owe him), my brother had called to thank me for setting up a fun interview. 

Coincidentally, I had just emailed my sister, Jeanie, to thank her for suggesting a few years back that I join a writers’ group. At first I balked at her idea. I’m not usually a joiner, and I had visions of having to write a haiku or describe how oak trees feel when they lose their leaves. I’m creative, but only to a point.

I had yet to learn about non-fiction writers’ groups, made up of freelancers who research and write about parenting, banking, horticulture, and a whole host of other topics, including donkeys. The group I eventually joined invited me based on my North Raleigh News columns. We’re all information-junkies, and we share ideas about writing, editing, and selling stories.

It’s a perfect fit for me, and I wanted to let my sister know that she had been right. In turn, she thanked me for the times I’ve given her a nudge when she needed it, and said she wished she had thanked more people along the way.

I don’t know why it’s so much easier to complain than to say something positive. I think we tend to feel vulnerable when we try to express the things that are in our hearts, so we hold back. And then because it’s hard, we just never find the right time to do it.

As a writer, I know how thrilling it feels to receive e-mails from readers who say they’ve been touched by something I’ve written. But that kind of feedback is rare. In the writing world, as I’m often told, “No news is good news.”

I recently saw the thought-provoking movie Pay It Forward. In response to a challenge from his teacher, a young boy came up with the idea of helping three people and, rather than expecting anything in return, he asked them to “pay it forward” to three other people. He hoped that, through this altruistic pyramid scheme, he could eventually impact a lot of people.

I love the idea that it’s possible to change the world, even a little bit at a time. Now that I think about it, a trade-last is based on a similar idea, only with it you pay the goodwill backward instead of forward.

What a good feeling it is to hear a compliment passed along or be thanked for something you’ve done in the past. It boosts your spirits, and stays with you. If we all tried it, I wonder how long it would take until the “pay it backward” thing really took off?

And hey, by the way, Mike, Anita told me that you have a beautiful farm.


This article first appeared in The News and Observer, January 26, 2007

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