Pay It Forward

Driving home from a workshop in Los Angeles, Barry and I listened to the book, Pay It Forward, on audiotape. By the time we arrived home late on a Sunday night we were almost finished with the tapes. Our golden retriever dogs, the official welcoming committee at our house, came bounding out to greet us, yet we couldn’t get out of the car we were so captivated by the ending. By the time we opened the car door to greet our dogs, we felt inspired and motivated. Listening to the tape we laughed, cried and felt strengthened in our desire to make a difference in the world.

Pay It Forward was made into a movie in 2000. The movie is great, but the book is infinitely better. In the story, a social studies teacher challenges his students to do something to help make the world a better place. One ten year old boy named Trevor thinks of a plan to “pay it forward.” He decides to significantly help three people and then ask them, rather than paying him back, to pay it forward, each helping three people in return, and asking them to help three people and so on. The act of kindness needed to have the potential to change the person’s life. The story is about the different peoples’ lives and how they were changed by these acts of kindness, generosity and support. It is also a story about how one small boy with an idea was able to reach out and touch literally thousands and thousands of lives.

The story is fiction, but we have the potential within each of us to make it fact. One person helping three other people and then inspiring them to help three others, continuing fifteen cycles, would touch almost 15 million people. Imagine if all of us would commit to this. Our world could be changed in a very powerful way.

In 1978 Barry and I were blessed by a powerful act of kindness and generosity of spirit and then were told to “pay it forward.” Ram Dass saw us privately in counseling for almost three years and edited our first book, The Shared Heart. Though we would have gladly paid for this experience, traded or done anything in return, he always refused saying in effect “pay it forward.” Our experience with him helped to change our lives and guide our work into a heartfelt space. His support and love is felt by us whenever we are in a position to reach out to people. We have been “paying it forward” ever since.

In 1989 the California earthquake totally destroyed our home and most of our possessions. We were left homeless with a 5 month old baby and two girls. Our friends, Hugh and Gayle Prather, also had considerable damage to their home and they had two little boys. They figured our home was in worse shape, so they focused all their time and energy on helping us. They helped us day and night for one week, until we were in a new location. Then they turned their attention to their own home. We told them we didn’t know how we could ever repay them. Their simple answer to us, “Pay it forward”. We had never witnessed anyone putting their own adversity aside to help another. Their attitude helped to change our lives.

There are many different ways to make a difference in a person’s life. We need only be creative, aware of the potential to help, and willing to use our natural talent. Remember that even a child can do this. By starting to “pay it forward,” there is the potential to change the whole world by our willingness. What are we waiting for?

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