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Pay it Forward

15 January 2007

It's pretty unusual for a novel to start an international movement, but Catherine Ryan Hyde can claim to have done just that. The author of Love in the Present Tense, which has just been picked by Richard and Judy in the UK, published a novel entitled Pay it Forward in 2000, which was subsequently made into a film. This is the story of 12-year-old Kevin, whose class is set an assignment by their teacher to come up with an idea for world change and put it into action. Trevor decides to do something good for three people and when asked how they can pay it back, he requests that they should each 'pay it forward' to three more people.

The idea was based on Ryan Hyde's own experience, which occurred almost 24 years ago. She describes on the website how she was 'living in Los Angeles in a "tough" neighbourhood, and late one night her car stalled on a ramp leading off from a freeway. Before she knew it, her car was filled with smoke and the engine was on fire. She then observed two men running toward her with a blanket. They quickly popped the car's hood and did what they could to extinguish the flames. At the same time, a fire truck appeared on the scene. It all happened so fast that Ryan Hyde was unable to thank the two men, who disappeared into the night.

To this day she doesn't who they were. But at that same moment the Pay It Forward concept started to develop in her mind as Ryan Hyde realised she owed a huge debt of gratitude to someone. "It seemed like too much to do for a total stranger," she told Rotarians. "I was later told that we could have been killed. These two gentlemen probably saved my life, and they risked their own lives. And I don't even know who they are."'

The result was the novel Pay it Forward, which led to the foundation of the Pay it Forward Foundation in the US, which has a British offshoot, and where individuals can post their stories of how they have 'paid it forward' in their own lives.

This is a real grass-roots movement which inspires people to behave differently in their own lives. It is rare example of a novel changing the world through the power of the idea it contains. Perhaps it will even encourage us all to abandon our cynical approach to the possible power that literature can have as a way to transmit a message.

Pay it Forward Movement

Pay it Forward (UK)

Catherine Ryan Hyde's site