Wanted: Legitimate Leaders

This month’s The Colgate Scene included significant coverage of the “Passion for the Climb” capital campaign hoping to raise $400 million for Colgate. On page three is an interview of President Rebecca Chopp and Campaign Chair Jim Elrod ’76. When asked about her excitement for the coming years at Colgate, President Chopp responded by noting that Colgate is going to be “even better prepared to build leaders.” This is further explicated by categorizing Colgate students as having a “good sense of the moral and ethical” and highlighting the fact that now, “more than ever before, the world needs leaders who have benefited from our kind of liberal arts university education.”

I couldn’t agree more that leadership is a quality desperately needed. We face a globalizing, shrinking world, in which we must navigate a web of relations where one action is intricately linked through cause and effect to people and places around the world. Vision, courage, perception, conscious citizenship – these are attributes that inspire and motivate, attributes that should be at the forefront of our rapidly changing world.

Since our first days on campus we’ve been told and trained that We, the students of Colgate, are the leaders of our generation. How do we rise to the title bequeathed to us? What does it mean to be a Leader? To have an opinion, to take a stand; to risk subjectivity and to embrace the power of critical thought. Herding an ‘army of the status quo’ is not the goal to be pursued, but rather, to be leaders with the moral and ethical grounding President Chopp so generously attributes to us. True leaders, leaders who inspire by what they do, how they live, what they engage in: this is what we need.

I’d like to put this in the context of Editor in Chief Jeff Fein’s column of February 15 regarding our role in making change in this world of ours. Fein’s column discusses the John Mayer song “Waiting on the World to Change,” suggesting that the singer’s passive view on our ability to create the difference we wish to know is antithetical to Ghandi’s oft-quoted statement, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I posit to the Colgate community that if we are indeed poised to be the leaders of the 21st century, we need to ask ourselves what we are the leaders of and how we intend to lead. Being a leader needs to be synonymous with being the change we wish to see in the world. Rather than embracing a status quo that allows us to myopically enjoy the ‘success’ of our privileged positions, I encourage all of us to pursue a life that is conscious of those we share the world with, a way of life that does justice to all. Where to begin? We acknowledge that the world is shrinking beneath a web of closely intertwined relations and exchanges. Critically examine these interconnections. Cease to externalize that which is not directly in front of us – trash trucked away, toxic manufacturing by-products, air emissions, water effluents, resource extraction, sweatshop labor, the list could go on and on. Consume less – each time you are about to make a purchase, ask yourself, is this fulfilling a need or a want? Less consumption by us means a diminished burden on the earth’s dwindling resources and a step towards increased equity to our fellow global citizens. Work towards self-sufficiency – for example, learn to fix things rather than buying something new, be it with needle and thread, or hammer and nail. Not only is self-sufficiency incredibly empowering, it limits a cycle of consumption and waste. Live consciously – become aware of the impact of your actions. We all automatically turn on a light when we enter a room. That same light needs to be turned off upon exiting the room with the same automatic thinking. Be engaged in the world around you – take time each day to reflect on your actions and to cultivate opinions; finding your Truth and expressing that Truth is a radical act.

I see these as the challenges to be met in our lives. But first, we must look within and demand it of ourselves to rise to the task. Change is difficult and gradual; leading that change takes dedication and heart. May we all become the change we wish to see in the world. Because who are we waiting on?