On Monday, April 13 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof delivered Elizabethtown College’s 2015 Ware lecture, during which he discussed his work as a journalist and human rights activist.
The Ware lecture, sponsored by Judy S. ’68 and Paul W. Ware and Etown’s Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking, focused on Kristof’s latest book. In the book, “A Path Appears,” he and his wife, fellow Pulitzer Prize-winner Sheryl Wudunn, bring to light the efforts made by people in the world who are bringing about change, one story at a time.
Kristof, who has lived on four continents, visited six, and traveled to more than 150 countries, has witnessed firsthand countless times just how impactful humans can be on one another and that the struggle that comes with reaching out is more often than not worth it.
“Anybody who has tried to help others knows that helping people is harder than it looks. We have a very imperfect record of success,” he said.
But according to Kristof, there is hope for us yet. “There is something of a revolution underway in the world of philanthropy,” he said. “What matters at the end of the day is the impact.”
Now more than ever before, there is an emphasis on measuring impact by using the tools of the business world. Activists are subject to and likely participate in rigorous evaluation.
“We are learning all kinds of new things,” Kristof said. For so long we have been concerned with the financial aspect of charity, often forgetting that volunteering our time can be just as beneficial.
Kristof believes that this ideal can be promoted through education: “We tend to focus on the cost of building a school — we tend to think that’s the impediment.”
But money is not always the issue. We are often ignorant of the importance of the long-term development of healthy environments for the developing world.
For example, iodine deficiency in children growing up in third world countries is a leading cause of decreases in cognitive capacity, therefore negatively impacting the time the youth of such impoverished areas spend in school.
Kristof discussed several other major crises that prevent the world from moving forward in a positive way, including teenage pregnancies, sex trafficking, lack of women’s rights, poverty and inequality. His interest in sharing the stories of those affected by the issues plaguing people at home and abroad sheds light upon the fact that “often we’ve started too late.”
Early intervention is the key to making the world a safer and happier place. Knowledgeable in the fields of demographics and neuroscience, Kristof identified the very apparent effect of philanthropic actions.
Even if raised in the same environment, with no innate cognitive differences, children can develop differently depending on the amount of love and care they receive. Engagement with others decreases the stress hormone cortisol — a sure start to making peace more prevalent.
Kristof encouraged the students in the audience to take advantage of their time at Etown and to consider it a privilege. “Education can make a huge difference,” he said. “One of the values of a university education is that it gives you perspective.”
As a young man, he spent time in France working on a farm and time in Egypt learning Arabic. He attributes his increased awareness of global issues to the mistakes he has made abroad, telling students to take advantage of any opportunities to travel or get out of their comfort zones, as they will likely experience the same sort of significant growth that he did. Kristof told audience members that the most important way to make a difference in the world is to “keep one foot in it.”
The empathy gap that has so negatively inhibited the progress we are trying to make in reducing and eliminating strife is especially apparent in younger generations.
To avoid this, students must remember that passion and empathy should not depend on the color of someone’s skin or the nationality determined by their passport. Truly transformative actions do not take these factors into account. “We are all human,” he reminded the audience.
Kristof implored the audience to get involved, no matter what the cause, means or location. “Just because you can’t help everybody doesn’t mean you should help nobody,” he said. “If every life is equal, make it a priority to do all you can!”
The future of humanity depends on people helping people. The lecture reflected the College motto, “Educate for Service,” as Kristof’s work has focused on sharing the remarkable stories of those conquering disease, slavery and neglect.
“I’ve had my heart broken many times,” Kristof said. “[But] side by side with the worst of humanity, you see the very best.”