Oprah Winfrey opened her school in South Africa in January, and was both praised and criticized. The criticism was that she was spending too much money on too few girls, because her school was lavish, free, and could only accommodate less than 200 girls. Aside from the fact that Oprah is entitled to spend her money any way she sees fit, I think it is a worthwhile enterprise, and that the people who criticize her are short-sighted.

What I don’t think they realize is that the new school will hopefully empower the girls who attend, and help them grow into young women with a mission. Their mission will be to help others, and will create a web of influence far greater than anyone can foresee.

One of the things I’ve come to see as my life and career progress is that whatever we do to help one person has far more influence than we can realize. Each person we teach, encourage, or help to heal is then empowered to carry that teaching, encouragement and healing on to others. The inspiring book and movie, both titled “Pay It Forward,” puts this concept in the form of a type of debt—instead of paying people back for what they’ve done for us (which isn’t always possible) the pay it forward concept urges us to pay the debt to others who need it.

This happens automatically when we learn from a great teacher, whether in person, through books, or by someone’s stirring life example, such as Buddha or Ghandi. I have been fortunate to have had a great mentor, Rev. Denton Roberts, who guided me through re-formatting my own personality and beliefs, and then taught me how to be a caring and effective counselor. I have written previously about how wounded I was, and how Denton helped me learn to heal myself.

His teachings and examples are now part of my consciousness, and I use them to help others, sometimes giving him credit for the ideas, sometimes not. Teachers of other things, such as my wonderfully healing voice coach, Marvellee and her late husband, Daniel Cariaga, who gave much more than just musical wisdom, add to the storehouse of what I can pay forward. All the great thinkers in psychology whose books I have read, such as James Hillman and Thomas Szasz also influence my work and their ideas pass on to my clients. Loving friends are teachers, too.

Then, those I have worked with use what they’ve learned with others I’ll never know. Clients can be teachers, too—I learn from my clients every day, and pay what I learn forward to future clients. Can you imagine the web of wisdom building as we all help one another with what we learn?

You are part of this web, we all are. Everyone who influences you positively was in turn taught by someone before them—the web stretches back to Plato, to Jesus, to Moses, to the great Arabic and Asian thinkers who first devised the numbers we use.

We all recognize that we can be influenced negatively, that we can be brought down by scary newscasts, violent and cynical movies and tv, but this web of positive influence is so much more powerful and important. “People and peoples come and go, live and die,” writes Robert Wright in Non Zero, “But their [ideas], like their genes, persist. When all the trading and plundering and warring is done, bodies may be lying everywhere, and social structure may be in disarray. Yet in the process, culture, the aggregate menu of [ideas] on which society can draw, may well have evolved.”

Whether or not you have children to follow after you, you will leave behind a legacy. It’s your positive influence on others, on life, and on this shrinking planet we live on, and it never dies. The web will remain, nurturing a supporting human life for as long as it exists, and your influence will be a part of it. © Tina B.Tessina, 2007

Author's Bio: 

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., "Dr. Romance,"http://www.tinatessina.com is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with 35+ years experience in counseling individuals and couples and CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for Love Filter - the Relationships Website. She's the author of 13 books in 17 languages, including Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, Lovestyles: How to Celebrate Your Differences and The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again She publishes the Happiness Tips from Tina email newsletter, and the Dr. Romance Blog. She has written for and been interviewed in many national publications, and she has appeared on Oprah, Larry King Live and many other TV and radio shows.