a church in carrick-on-shannon

How to change the world


Q: What was the inspiration for Pay It Forward?

CRH: About twenty years ago, I was driving alone at night in a rough area of downtown Los Angeles. My car, an old Datsun 1200, was the best I could afford at the time. I drove it constantly for business, relied on it for every cent of cash I earned; as a result, it was not in great condition. When I braked at the end of a freeway off-ramp, the engine suddenly died. All the lights went out-headlights, dash lights-and then the passenger compartment started to fill with smoke.

I jumped out of the car to see two men running toward me, one holding a blanket that he had pulled from their car’s trunk. My panicked first thought was “I’m dead.” Pushing past me, one of the men popped the hood of my car. My engine was on fire; flames were burning along the throttle line. This total stranger proceeded to smother the blaze with the blanket. The car could have exploded at any moment, killing all of us. The fire department arrived quickly, called by another thoughtful motorist, but by then, the fire was out. The two men had saved my car, saved me-my livelihood, possibly my life-all the time putting their own lives at risk for a stranger. Once the emergency was over, I looked up to thank them, but they were gone.

Over the following months, I decided that if I couldn’t do anything to repay those two men directly, I would have to return the favor elsewhere. I started looking for someone who needed help as much as I did the night my engine burned. I believed that brand of caring could be contagious.

Q: What happened?

CRH: When I did have the opportunity to help someone, it didn’t seem all that dramatic at first. I had stopped to help a woman who was stranded by the side of road in the dark. Her car wasn’t in flames, just unable to hold radiator fluid. The problem wasn’t serious; all I had to do was take a utility knife from my car’s glove compartment, cut off the split end of the radiator hose, and reclamp it. It was when we took a drive to get water that I found out how important my help was to her.

She never told me what had happened to her in the past; what type of violence or assault she had survived. And I didn’t ask. But it became clear as we talked that, in her mind, she had been in a life-threatening situation. That I was the first person to happen by, that I cared enough to stop, that I had no bad intentions toward her, was a life-and-death flip of the coin for her. She kept asking how she could repay me, offering to give me money. I wanted to hold onto the idea that I could send one more person into the world owing a favor to a stranger. “Don’t pay it back to me,” I said. “Pay it forward to someone else.” She understood. Then I spent the next twenty years wondering what kind of world it would be if an idea like that caught fire.

Catherine went on to write the best selling book and it was also made into one of my favorite movies. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I urge you to do so today. This is how it works:

If someone did you a favor, something big…something you couldn’t do on your own and instead of paying it back…you paid it forward to 3 people.

And the next day they each paid it forward to 3 more people.

And the day after that those 27 people each paid it forward to another 3….

And each day in turn paid it forward to 3 more people….

In two weeks that comes to 4,782,969 people….

I like this concept. Catherine spent 20 years wondering if this could catch on. I don’t want to wait 20 years. I am challenging everyone reading this to begin to Pay It Forward with me. Let’s make a difference, let’s make a change in our world.

To learn more about the movie, book and Pay It Forward, follow this link.


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