Changing the World One Person at a Time

Published September 21, 2012, Pawtucket Times

            You do not have to be in political office, a government official or own and operate a business, or run a nonprofit, to make Rhode Island a better place to live or work.   Individually, we can work daily by performing good deeds to those who cross our paths that ultimately contribute to the greater good of your community.     

            Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel, Pay It Forward, published in 1999, was adapted into a Warner Brothers film (with the same moniker) one year later, bringing the “Pay It Forward” concept to millions of Americans. In the PG film, young Trevor McKinney learns that positive community change can occur just by doing three good deeds.  He sees the positive impact of “Pay it Forward” and learns that the practice of helping one another can “spread geometrically through society at a ration of three to one, creating a social movement to making the world a better place.”

            We are drawn to the tormented 12 year old Treavor McKinney, who is living with an alcoholic mother and conflicted by fears of his abusive, but mostly absent father.  The young boy takes on a school assignment given to his class by the new social studies teacher, Mr. Simonet.  The assignment is to “create something to change the world” and put it into action. For his project, Treavor embellishes on an idea where instead of repaying a favor or good deed back to someone  – the recipient would ‘Pay It Forward’ by doing a good deed to three new people.  Ultimately, McKinney sees the impact of this school assignment, like a rock thrown skipping in a pond, making ever-wide traveling ripples in the water.

            This “Pay It Forward” concept is not a new one.  According to Wikipedia, in a letter to Benjamin Webb dated April 15, 1784, Benjamin Franklin clearly penned his support of the concept in that correspondence.

            The founding father wrote: “I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you […] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.”

           Like Franklin, University student Christopher Lo took this concept to heart.  He was inspired by the unexpected return of a lost video camera, leading him to create the web site in 2010.  The equipment was misplaced after he accidentally left it outside the University’s library.  Although it did not immediately turn up at the school’s “lost and found” website, a stranger finally turned it in.  Amazingly,  that simple act of kindness of returning a lost video camera led to the creation of a web site to track all the good deeds “passed forward,” to illustrate the positive impact of the concept.

            Lo created a “Karma Seed,” a small plastic card with a unique identification number, detailing the website location.  If you perform a favor for someone, you just give them the plastic card and request that the person register the plastic card at the website.  This person then “pays the good deed forward” requesting that the new recipient of kindness to go online and register the card after they became the recipient of a good deed.  Any recipient or giver of a Karma Seed card can go back to the website and see a detailed history of the good deeds that followed the original act of kindness.

           Lo’s Karma Seed organization contributes 50 percent of the profits to The Karma Seed Foundation to support social projects in communities surrounding WashingtonUniversity in St. Louis.

          One year later, a Louisiana affiliate of ABC NEWS, did a story on The Newton Project, a 501(c)(3) outreach organizations established to show that even with the world facing big problems, each person can make a unique, individual difference simply by taking the time to show love, appreciation and kindness to those around them. Like Lo, the founder, Michael Phillips, based the mission of his organization on the classic “Pay It Forward” concept, but demonstrates the impact of each act on the world by tracking each wristband with a unique identification number and quantifying the lives each has touched. The Newton Project’s attempt to determine the benefits of a Pay It Forward type system can be viewed by the general public at

           Meanwhile, the “Pay it Forward” movement got a jump start with businessman Charley Johnson taking the helm of the Pay It Forward Foundation ( in 2012.  He walked away from Corporate America to change the world one person at a time.  The former owner of a manufacturing company had an idea for encouraging kindness acts by creating a Pay it Forward Bracelet that could be worn as a reminder of the importance of doing good deeds to strangers who cross your path.  Today, over a 1.5 million Pay it Forward bracelets have been distributed in over 112 countries sparking some amazing acts of kindness. Few bracelets remain with their original recipients, however, as they circulate in the spirit of the reciprocal or generalized altruism.

            Singing his praises, Pay It Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde, who also founded the Pay it Forward Foundation in 2000, “Charley says he’s going to make this ‘the biggest thing the world has ever seen. If anybody else said that, I might not believe it.  But nothing is out of the question when Charley goes after it.” 

          Start today with making a difference in your neighborhood, office and throughout your daily travels, with a simple act of kindness to a stranger.  Doing this and requesting the beneficiary of your action to just “Pay It Forward” may have major positive implications for your neighborhood, City or town, the OceanState and even the World.  Amazing.

        Herb Weiss is a freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at




2 thoughts on “Changing the World One Person at a Time

  1. It’s good that you took the opportunity to write this, as it’s
    an issue that is very important to me. Is there any way I can talk with you?
    My name’s Darin Mohr and I’d love to discuss this more.

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