Nicholas Kristof urges students to leave their comfort zones

Nicolas Kristof speaking to Northwestern students in Cahn Auditorium.
Nicholas Kristof speaking to Northwestern students in Cahn Auditorium.

By Nicole Bauke

Nicholas Kristof, famed op-ed columnist for the New York Times and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, visited Northwestern University last Monday to encourage students to educate themselves and others about human and social injustices around the world.

“A critical part of education is to get out of the classroom in different ways and test ourselves,” he said. “Get out of your comfort zone.”

Kristof spoke about how often people hear about global injustices and sympathize with victims but seldom take action because they see the problem as out of our reach. While they are sitting on their couches at home, he explained, it can seem as though they have no power to make a lasting difference for people on the other side of the world. Furthermore, empathizing with people in need can be difficult when living in a society such as ours.

“The wealthiest 20 percent of the United States donate less than the poorest 20 percent, because they don’t really see the need around them,” he said. “If you grew up poor in America, you are constantly interacting with people poorer than you.” That is what makes people sympathize with those in need and more prone to donating, he said.

For Americans watching global news at home, the issue of poverty can seem distant, making it difficult for the affluent to understand why a problem occurred and how it can be fixed. Kristof stressed the importance of educating oneself on current events and learning how to effectively make a difference.

According to Kristof, the amount one gives doesn’t necessarily relate to how much it might help someone. Recalling his father’s journey to America, Kristof shared how even a small donation may change a single person’s life. Kristof’s father was a Romanian refugee who met a young woman—Kristof’s mother—whose family agreed to sponsor him to come to America. Though the family did not solve the global refugee problem, Kristof said the family’s charity was “transformative” for both his father and his future family.

As an ending note, Kristof urged students, especially those studying journalism, to be mindful of how they can impact what the media chooses to represent. He said covering pieces that raise awareness for important issues is key to creating awareness and increasing charity.

“Our lack of thoughtful coverage of important issues is one thing that worries me about modern journalism; these issues really only get attention if they are heightened in some way,” Kristof said. Journalists have the power to inform the public, so they should do their best to do so. Kristof said he hopes to see more of that in the future.

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