Is it actually possible to change the world?
Can you make it a better place? Or is this just an overly Utopian idea?
We all complain, but in fact most of us have it pretty easy. True, there are rough spots along the way; it happens to all of us. But why not help out someone who's going through a temporary difficulty?
The video below is a trailer for the film Pay It Forward, starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment. In the motion picture, social studies teacher Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey) gives his class an assignment: look at the world around you and fix what you don’t like. Mr. Simonet’s student, Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) comes up with a concept for changing the world: “Pay It Forward.” But can you fix people?
You can see more about the film here.
Before it was a 2000 hit movie, Pay It Forward was a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Challenged by a teacher to "think of an idea for world change and put it into action," 12-year-old Trevor McKinney decides to do a good deed for three people. Instead of paying him back, Trevor asks them to "pay it forward." The idea catches on and his initial acts of kindness have global consequences.
It's a hopeful book for our cynical times.
The concept isn't new, as the concept was described by Benjamin Franklin in 1784. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay "Compensation", wrote: "In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody."
Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, "You don't pay love back; you pay it forward." And in 1944, an anonymous spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous said in the Christian Science Monitor, "You can't pay anyone back for what has happened to you, so you try to find someone you can pay forward."
Science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, used the phrase in Between Planets, a book published in 1951, almost fifty years before C. Ryan Hyde's novel. Heinlein both preached and practiced this philosophy, and now the Heinlein Society, a humanitarian organization founded in his name, does so today.
Making a Difference
The premise is fairly simple: you do a favor for three people over a few days or weeks. You ask for nothing back, nothing at all. When they ask how to repay you, you tell them to pay it forward to three more people. Each person is then impelled to pay it forward to three more. Nine becomes 27, which becomes 81, which becomes 243. Do the math: in just 14 levels we reach a group about the size of the population of Australia.
Hopefully, this thought will inspire everyone that reads this to start with just one deed today, be it big or small, to help someone. It could be a loved one, a neighbor, a co-worker, or even a complete stranger. Try to make a habit out of it... just one tiny gesture each day. If everyone did this, imagine the effect on the entire world. It's amazing to think about the possible results.
So, is "Pay It Forward" realistic? And what if your idea doesn't work? Then again, what if it does!
Want to know more? Maybe these links will help:
- Pay It Forward Foundation
- Pay It Forward Movement
- Heinlein Society
- Pay It Forward (2000) on DVD
- Catherine Ryan Hyde
Pay It Forward links on Facebook:
Note: Pay It Forward bumper stickers are available to readers on request. There is no charge. The author asks only that you put them to use where they will be seen. Also follow the link on that page for info on Pay It Forward wristbands.
OK, so why did I post all of this? It's simple: a dear and close friend recently did a very large favor for me with a surprise gift of a particular piece of electronic gear. As an aspiring author with books in the works, I had wanted since it was first announced: a new Amazon Kindle (Global Wireless), their latest generation wireless reading device.
As an Amazon Top 500 Reviewer, I've seen a number of new authors who have successfully published books using this new media, which I consider almost as revolutionary to the printed word as Johannes Gutenberg's printing press was when he first assembled in Germany in about 1440... the first in Western Europe to develop a printing press. It eventually replaced most versions of block printing, making it the most used format of modern movable type, until being superseded by the advent of offset printing.
This unnamed friend knew that as a single father of a 13-year-old son, I could not just plunk down the money to get this product, especially in this current economy. What this friend did not know was that having the Kindle would allow me to move up my publishing schedule by a good six months on one of the books (a technical manual) and possibly by as much as nine months on a novel that I've been working on for a few years.
And above all, this friend asked for absolutely nothing in return. It should also be noted that this friend made a substantial gift to a family on the other side of the world, a woman with children who wasn't going to be able to celebrate Christmas because of her particular economic situation. My friend gave the woman enough money for presents for each of her boys and enough food for an entire month.
That's what this is all about. When someone does you a big favor, don't pay it back... Pay It Forward.