I watched Pay It Forward for the first time all the way through (I’ve only seen tiny bits and pieces of it here and there) and all I can think is…
HOW HAVE I NOT SEEN THIS WHOLE MOVIE BEFORE NOW!?!?
If you haven’t figured it out already, I love movies with depth…movies that leave you sitting in silence, thinking intently about the deeper message while the credits roll and tears slide gently down your cheeks (okay, maybe my tears are a mild version of the Roarin’ Rapids water ride at Six Flags).
Pay It Forward stars Haley Joel Osment (AKA: easily one of the top 8 most adorable child stars ever…there’s no arguing with me on this one, we will agree to disagree), Kevin Spacey, and Helen Hunt.
Kevin Spacey is a social studies teacher and on the first day of class, he assigns his students (Osment being one of them) a unique project unlike any task I was ever assigned in school.
Below is the conversation that takes place. To make things easier, “S” will represent Spacey’s character and “O” will represent Osment’s:
S: “This class is Social Studies. That is you and the world. Yes…there is a world out there and even if you decide you don’t want to meet it, it’s still going to hit you right in the face. Believe me. So…best you start thinking about the world now and what it means to you. What does the world mean to you? […] Let me ask you another question. How often do you think about things that happen outside of this town? Do you watch the news? Yes? No? Alright, so we’re not global thinkers yet…but why aren’t we?”
O: “Because…we’re eleven.”
S: “What does the world expect of you?”
S: “Nothing. My [goodness] boys and girls, he’s absolutely right. Nothing.”
S: “You’re stuck right here in the 7th grade…but not forever, because one day you’ll be free. But what if upon that day you’re free, you haven’t prepared, you’re not ready…and then you look around you and you don’t like what the world is? What if the world is just a big disappointment?”
Random Student: “[We’re up a creek without a paddle!]”
S: “UNLESS…UNLESS you take the things that you don’t like about this world and you flip them upside down right on their [tush]…and you can start that today.”
*pulls map down and it shoots up displaying the assignment written in chalk on the board*
S: “This is your assignment. Extra credit. Goes on ALL YEAR LONG.”
Class: “But it’s so…”
S: “How about…possible? It’s POSSIBLE.“
A few more words are exchanged and the scene ends with the camera pointed on Osment, his eyes zoned in on the board, wheels turning.
It’s obvious this boy begins to dream.
Can you imagine sitting in the classroom on the first day of 7th grade and getting THAT laid on you!?
As I was gathering my thoughts for this post, I tried to imagine my 7th grade self…you know…pre-side-ponytail, sweaty armpits (come on, we all had them), sweaty palms (I still have those), basketball shorts, and braces.
I have exactly two memories from 7th grade social studies:
- my friend, Faith, asking the question, “Is the Coast Guard in the middle of the football field?”
- me running back and forth across the classroom wearing a gorilla costume
Ironically, it was for a class project.
At 11 years old, I couldn’t even refrain from laughing when it was my turn to read out loud. Much less come up with an idea to present to the class about CHANGING THE WORLD.
Anyway, the day comes when it’s time for the students to share their ideas with the class…and if your 7th grade self was anything like my 7th grade self, believe me when I say that you would NOT have wanted to present after Osment.
This little boy steps forward to present his project and grabs a piece of chalk from the tray.
He draws a stick figure with a circle around it and writes “ME” above the circle. He draws three smaller circles below that branch off from it, and then three smaller circles branching off each one of those.
O: “That’s me…and that’s three people…and I’m going to help them, but it has to be something really big, something they can’t do by themselves…so I do it for them. Then they do it for three other people. That’s nine…and I do three more…”
*commotion is stirred up throughout the classroom and Spacey sums up the class’ responses by saying it appears Osment has come up with an overly utopian idea*
O: “So like…a perfect world?”
O: “So?” (this is basically the nice way of saying: and? your point? does it look like I care?)
THIS 7TH GRADE BOY GETS IT.
He understands that changing the world is done one person at a time, and it starts with people like you and me.
According to the online dictionary, to pay it forward means to “respond to a person’s kindness to oneself by being kind to someone else.”
Osment believed that if we help three people, and then they help three people, and then they help three people…this could change our world.
If we responded to someone’s kindness to us by being kind to someone else, and then that person was kind to someone else, and so on, and so on…don’t you, too, think this could change our world?
It’s like the domino effect. By touching just ONE domino, all the other dominoes get touched.
All it takes is one person and, in the movie, that one person was an 11-year-old.
It almost sounds too easy…but what if it really were that easy?
What if, instead of paying someone back, we simply encouraged them to pay it forward…and, as a result, our world changed for the better?
Osment’s character saw the world for what it could be, not for what it was.
He had big dreams for the world.
I do, too.
Movie or not, who’s to say this concept is impossible?
You may call me naive for saying this but, like Spacey told his students, I think it’s possible…and it all begins with one person, one dream.
You can agree with me, or not agree with me.
Regardless of where you stand on the matter, you cannot deny that one simple act of kindness has the potential to change a person’s life and make a big difference and that, oftentimes, it can make all the difference.
Let’s take advantage of the opportunities around us and use what we have to make a difference where we are.
Let’s help someone do something they can’t do on their own.
Let’s make someone’s life a little easier, even if only for a moment.
Let’s take the things we don’t like about this world and flip them upside down right on their tush!
Let’s start our own Pay It Forward movement and maybe, just maybe, we can leave this world a little better than we found it.