Gandhi’s words, though usually reduced to the final exhortations of valedictory addresses, are as prescient today as when he first uttered them. In an era of ever-increasing globalization, motivations and goals are as fluid as the flow of capital. The steady progress to freer global markets has led to an accelerated dissemination of ideals and values. Yet, depending on where you look, this is as likely to be a positive reality as it is a negative one.

In the United States, the apparent lack of interest in social welfare on the global scale is often palpable in the attitudes of individuals toward their own lives. In societies that have reached a certain level of development in terms of both wealth and freedoms, apathy can become the prevalent state of mind as concerns over social responsibility are forgotten. Despite the current financial crisis and curtailed freedoms in the face of the global war on terror, America remains one of the wealthiest and freest nations in history.

In an age of pragmatism, I can’t help but ask, with all the privileges associated with being an American, are we being taught to aim low? From Georgetown students, this question may elicit an emphatic “no.” Students at this university, perhaps most notably the SFS-ers, are considered to be among the most ambitious individuals in our nation. But personal ambitions do not necessarily translate to societal benefit. Are we being encouraged to shoot for the more “realistic” goals? Forget about being a reformer and inspiring change. Instead, take steps toward initiating reform by first attaining financial security and donating to the pertinent causes.

Even among Georgetown students, this inability to overcome life’s inherent challenges should be cause for concern. The subsequent resignation to this “reality” and the supposed practicality assumed to deal with it are even more worrisome. We are left wondering when it became cliché to want to change the world.

Perhaps a more direct question is, what would the world look like if certain people hadn’t existed? Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. – are these names simply a list of visionaries left to venerate but never to add to? One might assume that such individuals are made necessary by their respective societal contexts: apartheid in South Africa, British colonialism in India and race relations in the United States. Such oppressive situations called for charismatic and iconoclastic leaders, hence they appeared. But are we so complacent in our own respective realities that we no longer find anything to change?

Yes, perhaps the United States isn’t suffering from such blatant issues as other regions of the world. But is our apathy to the human condition so deep that we can ignore the five million Zimbabweans at risk of starvation as a result of extended droughts? Are we so used to people dying that we can scoff at the concept of starving African children, saying, “Drink your beer, someone in Africa is sober?” If that statement shocks you, it shouldn’t – it is one I have heard often from high school and college students alike.

Does only the most ostentatious suffering demand our attention? How long did it take for Darfur to come to the attention of the American citizen, let alone the rest of the world? What about starving children and the uninsured of this nation? I don’t pose these questions rhetorically. They require answers, whether or not we wish to give them.

I have no desire to make blanket criticisms or to be a pessimist. In fact, I am often inspired by the students at this school who take the initiative to seek change. But the fact is, not all Georgetown students are doing so. And even if the number of activists at Georgetown is disproportionately high, what about the rest of our nation? We can argue about the superiority of American ideals for hours, but it will not change the fact that this is the only nation that is in our control.

It is pointless to conjecture whether other nations are equally concerned about the welfare of the less fortunate. Why compare ourselves to those worse than us? If we try to excel in technology and financial prowess, why can’t we also strive to be the nation that truly cares for everyone? New administrations and policy reforms have promised change in the past, and though I hope my cynicism is wrong, I am not audacious enough to hope that any result of this election will be particularly different.

Aakib Khaled is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at CURA PERSONALIS appears every other Friday.

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