The following essay is my submission for the 2009 Nick Kristof Win-a-Trip Contest. Every year Kristof takes a student with him to Africa on a reporting trip. Of course, I lost the contest. I did not expect to win, but I have delusions of hope in all aspects of my life. Enjoy…
I am a twenty-five year old boy from the suburbs of Chicago. I am a boy, because I have never left the United States. I am a law student at the University of Illinois, but I do not hope or plan to walk a predictable path. In recent months, my legs have grown a festering itch to travel. Aside from a few small gestures, I have done little to help anyone but myself. I now set out to change.
During my undergrad years I accomplished many things that allowed my parents to brag to their friends. I was a columnist for the Daily Illini; I started a blog that has blossomed to host many contributors; I participated in 13 public policy debates; I served on many committees and started a new student organization; I won multiple awards and I finished 3 majors. In law school I worked as former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar’s research assistant and have served on other committees. None of that matters. I used to boast of these things. Today, I do not. Who did I help? Where did I travel? No one and no where. I do not feel shame or guilt; I feel inspired and burning to change.
What makes my perspective unique and interesting? Nothing. But that is my value. There are many people in my generation who have humanitarian ambitions. However, many more people in my generation have chosen the safe life. Many of these people fit my description: white, middle-class and conservative. I grew up among that large swath of Americans who prefer to shop at the suburban Woodfield Mall for five hours rather than volunteer for an hour on Chicago’s South Side.
I see a battle between good and evil in the world, as well as large groups of apathetic gray. I have written a song that conveys this sentiment. I believe in the kind of righteous might that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy have promoted. I believe in pragmatic idealism and in the humanitarian good of economic development. I went to law school to craft a sword. I have many passions and journalism has always been one. Nick Kristof’s brand of journalism is righteous might.
I recently co-founded a Chicago crime data blog that empirically investigates the ingredients of violent and property crime. Nothing turns me on more than browsing international development statistics. Many scholars have produced great research, but we need more soldiers of good. The brand of journalism that Kristof practices inspires new humanitarians in the developed world. Although praise will sound disingenuous in the context of this contest, I hope to be one of many who follow Kristof’s position in journalism. He travels to the poorest places in the world and puts his family at risk of violence in order to show the most privileged people in the world a naked glimpse of the covert cruelties that still flourish in the blood of developing societies. I hope to do the same this summer alongside Kristof and someday I will do the same even without the good fortune of his aid.
When people ask me how I am doing, I reply, “I’m always good.” I justify the improbability of my claim by explaining that I judge my condition against all human life, not just against my neighbor. I cannot think of a cogent argument for why any single human life should be more valuable than any other single human life. Trivial and artificial boundary lines prevent humanity from efficiently allocating its vast wealth. How much more good would a couple of $700 billion international aid packages do for humans than a couple of $700 billion stimulus packages? Humans are humans. Writers will convince us of this.
My generation dances on a historical fulcrum. Previous generations had substantial wealth, but my generation has enough wealth to create the luxury and the duty to help people outside of our families, our communities and our borders. My grandfather said to me that every one should leave something good for posterity. He left grandchildren and the opportunity for me to become a natural-born world saver. Watch out – I am coming. The soldiers of good are on the march.