With the exception of the arduous attainment of academic success, a major priority of university students is the feverish quest to build an exceptional and distinguished resumé. And the campus — being the bursting plethora of unique and charitable extracurriculars it is — really gives students the chance to conveniently fill out the “community service” portion of their resumés. Following a short walk to SUB, a bit of small-talk and maybe even a club meeting or two, we can quickly become involved in campaigns for mental health awareness, part of fundraisers for kids in Africa or even signed up for a mission trip to South America.
Not only do these opportunities stand out on our resumes, they make us look like model citizens and we often become figures of praise amongst our peers and classmates. As privileged people, we’ve really gone out of our way to make a difference. We’ve accomplished something. We’ve changed lives.
But have we really?
Despite the genuine efforts of some, I’ve found that some “leadership” campaigns tackling big social issues and inequalities in our society often become instruments for praise. And because praise is fleeting, the effort that is put into these campaigns is fleeting as well. Once the praise dies, the initial fundraiser goal is met and the momentary effort spent on the issue is recorded on a resume, people will simply move on.
We have to remember that the problems of those in need cannot be solved unless they are approached with persistent, patience and perseverance. Just because your campaign has lost popularity doesn’t mean the issue no longer exists. Just because your fancy Facebook photo with the African kids got 200 likes doesn’t mean their problems are solved. In order to truly make a difference, it’s going to take time and a greater effort to understand the complexity of the issue at hand. Addressing a problem and then moving onto another after a brief effort to solve it is like dipping your toe in a lake without actually jumping in.
Say you join a cause for mental health. Remember, when you join a cause that’s addressing a major social issue, it is not about you. Remember, it’s not about trying to appear like an empathetic person on a resume or an opportunity to look good amongst your classmates; it’s about the people who’re struggling to get out of bed everyday. Remember, other than the fact that they’re having some difficulties, the people you help are no different than you. Just because you’re privileged in some ways and are in a position to help them, does not put you above them in any way. Don’t exploit their struggles. Now, there are some extremely genuine people on this campus who are tirelessly and quietly making a difference in the lives of others everyday but I feel like many people see social issues as impressive ways to open doors rather than dire circumstances where actual people need actual help.
Before you start calling yourself a leader, check yourself. Check to see if you’ve been taking the time to really understand that issue and check to see how it is actually affecting the people you’re trying to help. Don’t use the idea of being a “leader” or “changing the world” as a superficial way to put yourself above others. Remember, the true leaders will try and keep working and searching for ways to make a difference long after the initial praise has faded. The true leaders will see those in need as people no different than them. The true leaders will quietly inspire and guide, not with superficial words or accomplishments written on paper, but with pure empathy and genuine actions.