How to be a good citizen

Craig Kielburger’s recent talk at UTM teaches us that leaders are made, not born


One of the things that bothers me about our education system is that while it promotes a great deal of learning, it doesn’t do enough to develop good character. It’s embarrassing, but by the time the end of term rolls around, I’m admittedly more concerned about getting my assignments done than taking care of my own health or that of those around me.

Our system is such that we’ll sacrifice spending time with our own family and loved ones because we’re too busy meeting more pressing deadlines. And in all honesty, it can be way too easy to become shut up in our own lives—or literally, our own rooms—and not realize how many relationships we’re neglecting.

In the Countdown to Success with Craig Kielburger last week, he offered great insight into what it takes to be a person of strong character: “A leader isn’t the person who crosses the finish line first. The definition of the successful leader is someone who empowers someone else,” he said.

Empowering someone else. That’s quite different from the general focus on completing our degrees and getting the heck out of here.

But character is also about having the courage to stand up for one’s values, and for one another. When Paris was attacked earlier this month, leaders across the globe condemned the attacks, and countries stood united against the brutality and terrorism.

Following the attacks in France, a series of local incidents also took place in Canada, including an assault on a hijab-wearing woman picking up her children from school and an arson attack on a mosque in Peterborough.

The fact that these incidents took place on our own soil shows that we have a long way to go when it comes to, well, education on the difference between Muslims and ISIS, but also respecting the differences of our neighbours even when we don’t always understand them.

Hearing about all the negativity makes it easy to lose hope that our society is doing anything but losing all sense of the meaning of humanity.

But in fact, there is a lot of hope if we take into account many of the citizens’ responses to the incidents, which show that in spite of the work we have ahead of us, there are many Canadians who do have a lot of character.

For example, beyond condemnations of the various attacks on our soil, various faith groups offered the congregants of the Peterborough mosque alternative places to worship. And citizens also came together to raise money to help repair the damage done to the mosque.

We didn’t need to be Craig Kielburger to do any of those things. And perhaps he’s right to point out that part of the problem is when we think, “I’m only one person; what difference can I make?”

Well, whether the difference involves donating $1 for GivingTuesday or reaching out to a friend or neighbour in need, building character doesn’t have to be as hard as it sometimes seems.

This end of term, let’s do more than work on assignments and study for exams. Take some time to reflect on how we can better take care of each other and just watch how change materializes right before our eyes.