So around 14 years ago (yes I am old) a friend lent me the film ‘Pay it Forward’ and I was so enraptured by the essence of the tale that I rushed out and promptly purchased the book. Even though I was still in my teens, my love of reading was well established and I think I read the book from start to finish in one day (in fairness as a teenager I had the luxury of staying in bed all day of a weekend). To this day I still have the book on my shelf and every now and then, when life brings me down, I pick it up for a bit of inspiration and a good weep. It is one of those books I never tire of reading, that I would always recommend to a friend if asked to list my top ten books and should the film appear on TV, I would watch it again and again.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the story of ‘Pay it Forward’ let me lay it out for you in brief (beware-SPOILER ALERT)
A young boy named Trevor has a bit of a raw deal. Although loved by his mother, the absence of his father has led to her alcoholism and hence a somewhat unreliable home life. Despite this the boy is good natured and when he meets his new teacher, a scarred war vetran, he is not perturbed and unlike his classmates, can see beyond the scars (and in the book his race). His teacher sets an assignment to the class to ‘Think of something to change the world and put it into action’ and Trevor comes up with the notion of Pay it Forward.
His idea is based on simple mathematics, if he helps three random people, they in turn must repay by paying forward- by helping three people of their own. The story unfolds around the people that Trevor tries to help alongside the blossoming relationship between his teacher and mother and the return of his layabout father.
Trevor’s assignment is successful beyond his wildest dreams as a news reporter picks up in a story showing a drop in gang violence, which he traces back to Trevor’s Pay it Forward scheme. The world literally becomes a better place due to this one boy’s altruism. The tear jerker at the end occurs when Trevor tries to Pay Forward one last time, thinking an earlier attempt had failed, only to get caught up in a knifing. Trevor dies but his message lives on and the story finishes with a world that has been changed forever.
So, you might ask, why am I telling you about a 14 year old film and a book released in 1999? Well, after the staggering success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, my Facebook page has now started popping up with a new challenge-Pay it Forward. I’ve seen a few friends taking part in this concept of doing deeds of kindness to people with no hope of return, only the suggestion that they Pay it Forward.
I find myself both excited and scared by this new Facebook trend. In the story the success means that people on the street are constantly being helped in some way by virtual strangers desperate to do their good deed and pay forward. It becomes a way of life, something as ordinary as dropping your loose change in the charity pot as you walk by. I would love to think that (especially with the help of social media networks) this can happen in real life. However a part of me feels cynical that such compassion exists throughout mankind.
So I turn to the readers of WMW and ask-would you pay it forward?