Do Sweat the Small Stuff

by Peter Blair '12 | 10/6/09 10:00pm

The world's youth have always been notorious for their political activism and passion. Such passion often spills into the opinion columns of The Dartmouth. Whether the columns are about health care, alumni involvement or any number of other issues, one is always likely to find an opinion on the latest controversial issue in this newspaper.

To some extent, opinions writers for this paper are more interested in these issues than the campus at large. Still, I think debate in The Dartmouth does generally reflect the lens through which the greater student body tends to view the pressing problems of our time. We tend to see things in terms of the big picture large, sweeping ways other people can change the system or fix our problems.

Should President Barack Obama's administration push a public option? Should College President Jim Yong Kim fundamentally reform Dartmouth's alcohol policies? Should Hanover Police change its procedures?

I don't mean to say that such an approach is always wrong. Obviously, there are problems that require collective solutions there are bad policies out there, and we should debate and discuss them.

I do think, however, that viewing our issues in this way as problems that some semi-distant authority separate from us needs to fix tends to obscure a very important truth: what most determines the kind of country we live in is not the actions taken by the federal government. The thing that most strongly determines the kind of campus we live on is not the actions of the administration or Hanover Police. The most important determining factor is, instead, how we live our lives on an everyday basis, how we treat those around us and how we decide to use our time.

Of course, we do need to debate political issues. If we put even half the energy we use for political argument into actually doing things ourselves, we could do a lot to build a better campus, country and world.

People typically respond to this line of reasoning by saying that it takes too much time to do anything substantial time that busy students don't have.

I don't think that's true.

It is an error that arises from a weird, modern notion that only big efforts and big accomplishments matter that only by doing things on a large level can one make a difference.

On the contrary, I think what Mother Teresa once said is much closer to the truth: "We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love."

Some of us may be very powerful people one day, but most will live relatively ordinary lives. I believe that the key to changing the world is not to bring great external power to bear, but to change the world everyday, on your own, through small acts of love. It sounds hokey to some, unrealistic to others, but it works. Mother Teresa's ministry was based on the idea that true improvement and change can only come when we care for people the flesh and blood people we see around us not policies or statistical abstractions.

So what can we actually do? We can pick up a piece of trash we see on the Green. We can help drunk friends back to their dorms, instead of leaving them to make stupid decisions. We can affirm somebody instead of insulting him or her. We can hold a door open. We can share our leftover DBA.

These are the small building blocks of a better world. If we each commit to doing these things more often, and to living out the philosophy of everyday love, we could achieve a lot or much more, anyway, than we will probably ever achieve in an endless debate over the latest hot-button issue.