A recent John Mayer song speaks of a misunderstood generation and apathetic bystanders. Mayer insists that these good people would change the world if they could, but since they can’t, “we keep waiting on the world to change.” With all due respect to Mayer and his musical talent, I take issue with the sentiment behind this lyric.
The ’60s are remembered for mass activism. The self-interest of the ’70s and ’80s created a backslide from that involvement and led to a lack of public interest in issues. The turn of the millennium brought a great influx of information, laying atrocities bare and revealing people in need around the globe – to those who choose to see them.
Society faces a looming financial crisis, global warming, open combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, genocide in Africa and many other serious problems. Many choose to block out these negative images and focus on more immediate matters. People choose to entertain themselves with television or become absorbed in work.
The world has problems and some of them are huge. No one is saying you should get out and solve world hunger by 9 a.m. Monday morning. You can start small, just work hard at being a better neighbor. The next time you walk to class and see a bit of trash on the sidewalk – pick it up.
You can be part of the generation that stops the bloodshed in Darfur or you can be part of the generation that watched some guy fire bottle rockets from his boxer shorts on YouTube. The choice is yours and you make it every day.
The Internet has blessed the world with more access to information and ability for organization than ever before. But these tools are being used by organizations that may not have your best interest in mind. Giant, faceless corporations reap huge profits by using this new technology to streamline operations. Terrorists use the technology to post streaming video of gruesome executions on their Web sites.
What are you doing with the raw power of these tools?
Do you agree with the government’s policy in Iraq? Yes or no, you should be willing to find out about what is going on and take a stand. The people working in Washington are there to represent you. They work for you: the taxpayer. If they don’t come to you, you can go to them. Make your voice heard and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can get their attention.
Military personnel are taught to take ownership of the things they see around them every day. The idea behind this is to act as though it is yours: your library, your parking lot, your sidewalk.
As you start to feel a sense of ownership you also feel pride. You want your sidewalk to be litter-free. Slowly this sense can blossom to cover a larger area. You want your University to be respected. You want your city to do the right thing. You truly care about how your government acts, domestically and around the world, on your behalf. Before you know it you’re participating. You are a person who cares and is willing to get up and do something about it.
The Ad Council is sponsoring a campaign to promote good karma on Getgoodkarma.org. They run some great commercials showing unfortunate things happening to people. In a humorous way, the ads suggest that these people have developed bad karma – one man is covered in a swarm of locusts, another has sprouted extra limbs – and urges them to do something nice to change their fortunes.
You may already contribute to a better world. Many students actively support local charities, work with on-campus organizations and help frail professors cross the street. If you are in that wonderful minority, thank you. Keep up the good work and know that while you may never be able to see the full effects of your actions, you really do improve the world.
If you don’t find yourself in that group, think about getting involved. Get up off the couch, put down the bong and Guitar Hero controller and make the world a better place. Our greatest and most inspirational leaders became significant because each of them made a decision to act, make a difference and improve people’s quality of life.
Learn about issues that seem morally wrong or confusing to you. Talk to other people about what they think and use their opinions to give you food for thought. You can change your world. You need only choose to do so.
Jason Olivero is majoring in engineering.