Based upon a novel written by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Pay It Forward (Simon & Schuster), the Pay It Forward Foundation promotes the global social movement based on a simple plan of action.
The idea upon which the foundation was created is simple: anyone can change the world.
The Pay It Forward Foundation seeks to educate students of its mission and works with teachers on developing strategies of how they too can pay it forward.
Catherine Ryan Hyde is an example of what happens when we follow our inner urges, and how one small thought turned into an action can ripple to make a vast difference in many other people’s lives.
The Pay It Forward Foundation
Staffed mostly by volunteers committed to its simple but profound mission, the Pay It Forward Foundation encourages everyone to do a simple act at any time for anyone in any place. Paying it forward means doing a favor for someone without any expectation of being paid back—save for encouraging the recipient of the favor to in turn to pay it forward to someone else.
The idea behind his movement is to never assume a favor you pay is too small or too insignificant, as to someone else it could mean the world. How do you know that this exact opportunity won’t change the life of a complete stranger in ways you can’t even imagine?
Catherine Ryan Hyde, Esteemed Writer and Inspiration
Catherine Ryan Hyde is an established author with several acclaimed books to her name, including Second Hand Heart (Transworld UK) and Jumpstart the World (Knopf). Her short stories have been featured in several prominent literary journals, and many have gone on to win top literary awards.
Her 2000 novel Pay It Forward was developed into a popular movie of the same name, and was acknowledged by the American Library Association for its Best Books for Young Adults list. The novel appeared on several national bestsellers lists. The message of the book has inspired many people to try paying it forward in their own lives, and serves as the basis for the Pay It Forward Foundation.
Beside writing, Hyde also delivers public speaking addresses, including ones based on her pay it forward idea. The following is a transcript of Hyde candidly discussing her inspiration for paying it forward.
Setting: Echo Park, Late at Night
So, here I am in this bad section of Echo Park . . . I don’t know, does anyone know Echo Park in Los Angeles? Some of you actually do! And if you don’t, don’t run and check it out, just take my word for it, okay? It’s not really the place to be late at night. However, I lived there, which narrowed my options.
So, I’m driving home, and I should tell you that the car I was driving was not in good condition, because—at least I’m pleased to be able to say that I was young 24 years ago (I know, it’s hard to imagine)—I had this theory about cars when I was younger. I thought it cost less money if you didn’t take your car to the mechanic. It’s a logical theory when you think about it, because mechanics cost money, so you don’t go, you save money, you know? That’s one of those theories that works very well until the day it doesn’t anymore. So this is a story about the day it stopped working.
So, I’m coming home late. I get to the end of the ramp, you know, the freeway ramp where there’s a stop sign at Echo Park Lane. And I put my foot on the brake, and the engine stalled—which may sound unusual to you, but it always did every time I put my foot on the brake. That’s what happens when you don’t go to the mechanic! And then something that had never happened before: headlights, dash lights, all of the electric on my car, out.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
So, now I’m out there in the dark. That’s a new one. And while I’m pondering this, I noticed that there’s a curled smoke—right away you know this is not good news, right? Where ever the smoke is, however the smoke is, right away you’re thinking, “That’s not good news!”—coming through the firewall from the engine side. And it’s curling up under the dashboard, and it’s beginning to fill up the passenger compartment where I sit.
Now, when you’re in a car in a bad neighborhood late at night—you probably know this already—you have a very powerful incentive to stay there with the door locked. But now the car’s filling up with smoke, which has got to be a textbook definition of being between a rock and a hard place. Right? So, once again, just so you don’t have to go out and do your own research, I will tell you the smoke wins. You’re going to get out of the car at that point. So I got out of the car.
Now I’m outdoors in this bad neighborhood late at night. And I looked up and I saw that there were two men, two total strangers, running in my direction very fast. And one of them is holding a blanket.
Strangers Help Out of the Blue
Many thoughts danced in my head. Not a single which had anything to do with rescue. As a matter of fact, I think the first thought in my head was that I’d never made out a will. And then of course I realized that it didn’t matter because I had nothing to leave to anyone, anyway. Except the car, which is on fire.
So, I really thought that those were going to be the last few moments of my life. I mean, you’ve had that moment where your life flashes before your eyes. Really, never occurred to me that they might have been running to my aid. But oddly enough, that’s exactly what happened.
Apparently they had been driving by—I say apparently because I never really got to talk to them—saw the trouble that I was in, pulled their own car over to the side of the road, took a blanket out of their own trunk, [and] one of them popped the hood of my car. You know, popped it from the inside—the other one actually opened it. [He] leaned his whole upper body into my flaming engine compartment and put the fire out with the blanket.
Total Strangers Save Lives
Now, just to stop and review what I find important in this story: his upper body, my flaming engine compartment. Isn’t that an interesting combination between total strangers?
So, right around the time he got the fire put out the fire department showed up, which I thought was interesting because none of us called them. Okay, so once again, the kids go, “Okay, so someone had a cell phone and you didn’t know it. “ No, not in 1978, I really don’t think so. Apparently some other good Samaritan driving on the freeway behind us had seen what was happening and called the fire department.
Now, I absolutely guarantee you in that situation I would have done that for a stranger. If I had seen you broken down with your car burning I would have stopped at the next call box and called the fire department for you. Not sure about the thing with the upper body in the flames. I don’t know about now, but at the time I don’t think I would have been ready for that.
Life and Death Situation
And, so, to make a long story short—perhaps it’s too late for that, I’m not sure—in the confusion of talking to the fire department . . . and by the way, one of the things that I learned from them is that we all could have been killed. You know, a car on fire is a lot like a Molotov cocktail, when you think about it. You know, you have a big tank of flammable liquid with a fuse that goes into it, and once it’s burning it’s, you know . . . you have some problems.
So, I turned around to thank these men who I thought were standing behind me listening to all of this, thinking, “Boy, this better be a good thank you!” Right? This was the biggest favor I had ever gotten in my life. This had better be a good thank you . . . and discovered that they had already packed up and driven away.
So, I didn’t even say thank you! I mean, I tried, but I didn’t know they’d do that.
The Birth of Paying it Forward
And so what happened as a result of this, you know, people will say to me, “So, if they hadn’t stopped and done that for you, none of this pay-it-forward-thing ever would have happened.” And I like to take it even a step further and say that if they had stayed around to be thanked, maybe the rest of this wouldn’t have happened. If they’d stayed around, you know, I would have gotten their address. I would have sent them a Christmas card every year for the rest of their life. You know, 24 years later, it’s almost December, I would have sent them a Christmas card and maybe that would have felt like enough.
But as it was I had received this huge favor and I hadn’t done anything to pay it back. So what was I going to do?
So I found myself—for those of you who know anything about the pay-it-forward concept, you are probably guessing where we are going with this story—I found myself on the lookout for someone in trouble. I thought, “Okay, sooner or later I’ll find someone in trouble and I’ll stop and pay that favor to them instead.”
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