Pay it forward! The true story behind the film (Pay It Forward, 2000)

Let’s pass on the good, starting from ourselves!

Author: Sylvia Borissova

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What do a single mother, a social studies teacher, a homeless bum, a drug-addicted boy, a man stuck in his car, a desperate young woman about to jump off a bridge, and the population of several American states have in common? They are all part of the Pay It Forward scheme—from the simple plan of a twelve-year-old boy for a better world, which later grew into a large-scale movement that spread to several states.

Think of an idea that will change the world and then put it into action!

A teacher gives his students the task: “Think of an idea that will change the world and then put it into action!” At first reading, this sounds unattainable even for an adult, let alone a child. It looks the same for the seventh-graders in the film, but only before they think about it.

One of the students (Haley Joel Osment) comes up with the idea for the Pay It Forward project. He invents a way to change the world—everyone has to find three people to do a good deed for. But first he has to look more closely at the people around him, to get to know them so that he understands what they need—even if they themselves are not aware of their real needs… And then? He must then ask the people he has helped to ‘pay it forward:’ to help unselfishly another three in need. So in a short time the world will be changed.

Most notably, when director Mimi Leder decided to screen Catherine Ryan Hyde’s 1999 book of the same name, the movement became a reality thanks to the Pay It Forward Foundation and the charity acts, as part of the chain is gradually spreading to more and more states. April 30 begins to be celebrated as the ‘Pay It Forward’ Day—the day of assessing the positive effects of these acts of kindness. To date, 2020, people from over 80 countries have joined the Pay It Forward chain and the latest updated goal of the initiative is to inspire over 10 million good deeds worldwide!

Maybe it sounds utopian and too incredible to you. And yet the words of this homework reverberate: Think of an idea that will change the world and then put it into action! Pay It Forward is a good way to be useful to someone, to do a good deed, to change the world… at least your world—the people around you.

Mimi Leder’s film tells at the same time the personal story of each of us—about the choices we have to make to live well and meaningfully; about how important it is to look beyond our prejudices to different people—be they homeless, single mothers, drug- or alcohol-addicted, potential suicides… Because it is namely the people that society rejects who are the victims of all those missed chances to do good, to be tolerant of differences; to be people with people.

You can start with the simplest doing-good tips of the aforementioned Pay It Forward Day chain, while you are waiting for the next April 30: