One hundred thousand people living in Turkey have been imprisoned, fired, or purged from public life on accusations of associating with enemies of the state since July. The people of Colombia recently voted in a referendum to reject the peace deal struck between their government and the terrorist organization with which they have been at war for over twenty years. The people of Flint, Michigan continue to suffer through lead tainted water due to government ineptitude – while being forced to keep paying water bills – and the relief of external aid has dried up.
How much can you honestly say you know about or think about these humanitarian crises, which are being experienced by other living, breathing souls as you read this article? If you are an average adolescent of the 21st century in the western world, the answer is probably not a lot. It’s hard to keep up with everything. It’s tempting to shift the burden of empathizing with the most disadvantaged people in the world onto their own shoulders. It’s easy to turn away. This article is about why it’s also the worst decision for boys to make: a scourge on the individual and on the goals of UCC as an institution.
I want to first make it abundantly clear that this is not an article that promotes using the knowledge of the suffering of others as an ornament in conversation. Quite the opposite. There is a personal and communal utility to being aware of what is going on in the world, at a moral and a practical level. Never should knowledge be used as a flaunting point with no awareness of the implications of that information. Our job should be to consume that information and consider it carefully, and in the end, to make change. I digress.
Not knowing is the greatest source of limitation on personal freedom in this lifetime. If personal freedom is to be attained, this necessarily means that one makes informed decisions in order to dictate the course they want to see the world take. For most people, these will be the choices that benefit themselves, their families, their communities, and humanity the most. The only way to make informed decisions is to use information.
The use of knowledge manifests in the “big choices,” like deciding where to cast a ballot based on which issues a political party cares most about. Shaping the world one wants to live in can only be done if one knows what needs to be shaped. Considering that most UCC students have just about peaked on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, making it so self-actualization is the next achievement level, a social and political voice is the most important means of achieving true freedom. Realizing one’s own power and ability can only be done if there is some higher end goal to approach. Here is why that is important:
Making these decisions through the veil of ignorance is a form of self-denial. Turning a blind eye to the issues of the world is essentially sacrificing your freedom to interact with it. A big focus of our efforts here at UCC are supposed to be finding something to care about – a higher purpose, as HL History students would have it. It’s impossible to find a true purpose – that solution that you want to dedicate your life to finding – if the problems of the world are unknown. It is an imperative to have awareness in order to decide what you truly care about, else it is a false decision made with faulty information, which probably does little good in defining a true, noble, or fulfilling ambition.
I’d also submit that not using the ability to influence the world when we so clearly possess it is an immoral act. We live in a stable western democracy with a great deal of international political standing, that also has internal problems currently plaguing voiceless minorities. The lottery of birth has assigned most in this community a great deal of power relative to the general population of the world, and our due cosmic recompense is to use that power for the greatest possible good. This is achieved by understanding the bad news in order to think about making it better. So, on an individual basis, it is morally unacceptable, and practically counterproductive to ignore the news of the day, even if it makes us uncomfortable. This is because we are among a select few who have any amount of political capital. Wasting it out of a personal indifference is nothing short of allowing suffering to continue, unabated.
But what about the community? If you’re one who could be billed as “proud of blue,” then social consciousness is a task that you really ought to take on to protect that pride. Perhaps the most tendered criticism of the UCC student body – unfortunately rightly so – is that students are detached. Recalling the school’s vision as set out by former Principal J.D. Blakey, and the article published on this very website two weeks ago concerning it, an awareness of public concerns is paramount for the UCC mantra. Upper Canada College was always meant to be “a private institution for public service,” and the dry disconnect that a lot of boys exhibit is not so much service as an insult.
Public service cannot be meaningfully fulfilled without a knowledge of what is going on beyond 200 Lonsdale. This is not to say that everyone who graduates from UCC will become or is destined to become a great political leader, but this kind of service can start now. Like every student, UCC or otherwise, we will be able to act with our votes and with our dollar down the road, but that is too far down the road, and too impersonal to foster a lasting connection between a student and the cause they wish to fight for from a young age. So I submit that the awareness and service should start now, with us doing what we can.
Flexing the arm of moral imperative does not require us to load up a 747 and fly to Idomeni to coordinate refugee camps, or join Red Cross to deliver humanitarian aid along the Iraq/Syria boarder. Service of a purpose takes on several levels of scale. The small benefits that we can create matter. At any level, service has the added benefit of reflecting the commitment that I truly believe this community has – one to helping others.
A cardinal argument for opponents of social awareness is that it is impossible to confront real issues when living in a developed democracy. However, I would point out that world issues are very much localized in Canada. While Canada refuses to publically confront the situation, the Aboriginal population of this country is essentially treated as a 2nd class. Lack of access to basic social services isn’t a circumstance unique to the Central African Republic – it exists on Canadian soil. I’d present issues like this one as attainable entry points for UCC students to accessing that service – just ask Will Stevens (IB2, horribly unfunny Creativity Steward) and brother Jack (’15) who carried out a project as simple as summer volunteering on Sioux Lookout Reserve in Northern Ontario – a community that suffers from lack of access to family health professionals in the year 2016. Horizons is another localized example of combatting systemic issues, if education inequality is something that a boy decides to be passionate about. These are tangible results of recognizing social issues, that provide a fantastic example for localized involvement today.
Secondly, I would argue that it is a legitimate form of respect to pay attention to problems that we do not face, if only in our thoughts and words. While there’s less of an impact in “just thinking” it does avert the characterization that UCC students often receive as oblivious non-observers. The ability to engage in conversation about the world around us is important to possess for the sake of not fulfilling that stereotype. The best way to dispel myths about the typical, isolated, indifferent UCC student is to actually make it a myth – and I don’t think we can confidently say it always is right now.
There’s no need to have a deep knowledge of the stance of every major member in the British government (looking at you, Malcolm Risk). Nor to know every fact and figure concerning the Venezuelan economic crisis. But it is good for everyone if the community acknowledges and considers situations like the refugee crisis, mass incarceration, and income inequality: real problems happening right now that we ought to care about.
So here are the reasons to pay attention outside of the classroom. It requires effort, to be sure. Political awareness does not come from one-minute videos on Facebook with bold text and reaction gifs. It comes from making the conscious decision, each day to dedicate twenty minutes to an invariably important goal: being worldly. So pick up the Globe at breakfast. Flip to CNN or FOX when the game is on intermission. (actually, don’t flip to FOX.) Make it a dinner table conversation. It’s in the best interest of the students of an international curriculum to be internationally minded where it actually matters: not in a ToK presentation, but in this real, tangible, short life we have.