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November 14, 1996

Drilling Dow

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It’s one of the first things you learn as a child: Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. So how is it that, as adults, we still need to be reminded of this concept? The idea of the Power of One is really so simple. Kids get it, adults get it, but we all forget to act on it from time to time. Here’s a powerful reminder.

In the 2001 movie Pay it Forward, a child takes it upon himself to practice doing good deeds. Trevor, played by Haley Joel Osment, responds to a homework assignment with this idea: Do three good deeds for other people, then watch the goodness spread. He timidly approaches the chalkboard in the front of the class to explain his theory that he calls Paying it Forward. Trevor draws a circle then attaches three other circles and then just explodes the visual multiplication on the board. With every stroke his confidence and enthusiasm builds like a great conductor surging the orchestra for the final note. At the end he simply lays down the chalk and goes back to his seat. The teacher, played by Kevin Spacey, and the class sit speechless.

Trevor reasons that, instead of paying him back for helping others, those he helps must pay it forward by doing three good deeds for three new people. In time, he theorizes, everyone will be touched by his three good deeds.

While it’s true that many good deeds go unnoticed, Trevor’s family did get to reap the rewards of his idea. His idea caught on, and the movie finishes with thousands of people who have been touched by Trevor’s life and his idea standing outside the front door of the boy’s modest wooden house. In the background a TV reporter is heard stating that the pay it forward idea has spread across the country.

Sure, it was just a movie. But it is a powerful idea. The key? It was simple. It was the kind of thing everyone could understand.

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