Response Magazine

Pulitzer Prize-winner Nicholas Kristof shares tips on creating a more just world

Kristof talks to about 1,000 attendees at the Downtown Business Breakfast

Pulitzer Prize-winner Nicholas Kristof and Seattle Pacific community members share their tips for creating justice.

Seattle Pacific recently welcomed Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to speak to Seattle-area business and civic leaders about our individual power and responsibility to create a more just and equitable world, ideas set forth in his best-selling book, A Path Appears (Knopf, 2014).

We asked him and a few SPU community leaders for their insights on advocacy and engagement. Here are some tips from Kristof and from Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Sandra Mayo; School of Business, Government, and Economics Dean Ross Stewart; Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology Thane Erickson; and Associated Students of Seattle Pacific Executive Vice President Danielle Meier.

What are specific things people can do to create more justice or equity in the world?

Nicholas Kristof and SPU President Daniel J. Martin stand in downtown Seattle
Nicholas Kristof and SPU President Daniel J. Martin stand in downtown Seattle

Kristof /Register as an organ donor. If everybody did that, that would be a big step. Find some avenue to connect to a cause larger than yourself for a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose. Some people will find their purpose teaching reading to disadvantaged kids and others will do it supporting women with fistula in Ethiopia. Just find something that speaks to you.

Mayo /Become a more socially responsible consumer. We can help reduce human rights violations and exploitation by doing the research to find out where products are made and under what conditions. Ellis Jones’ The Better World Shopping Guide (New Society, 2017) helps consumers learn more about the environmental and social impact of their buying decisions.

Practice critical self-reflection and become aware of your own “master narratives.” In her book, Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race (Elephant Room, 2014), Debby Irving challenges readers to consider the history they were taught in school. “Whose perspective did you learn? If you went in search of a fuller story, whose viewpoint would you seek?” We must work to create a more complete and honest accounting of our nation’s history.

Erickson /Reading narratives of people who we don’t understand or relate to is one means to foster empathy with others’ experiences of injustice, as well as the compassion that causes healthy distress and motivates action. Even better is taking opportunities to get out of our comfortable social networks and learn from strangers. My family has learned much and made new friends while sharing free meals with lower-income community members in a church basement.

We should allow ourselves the option of lament. Psychologists refer to this as practicing radical acceptance — allowing ourselves to feel and sit with unpleasant emotions long enough to learn from them, rather than avoiding them. The world might be more just if we allowed ourselves to feel appropriate pain.

Use your voice to advocate for the oppressed, whether by writing letters to representatives, involvement in community centers, or speaking up on social media when your network becomes an echo chamber.

If you had only a short time to spend creating a more just world, what would you do?

Kristof /One thing I really look for is effectiveness. Organizations will often say, “We are extraordinarily effective. We have this internal evaluation that shows that.” But in the history of humanity, no internal evaluation has ever shown a program to be a failure. I look for organizations where I really understand the impact, or where there is a randomized-control trial — the gold standard of evidence — that shows the impact.

Mayo / Invest in the lives of young people. When my son was in college, we had weekly Sunday dinners where we invited his peers to our house. It was nothing fancy, just a warm meal, lots of laughter and conversation around the table, and a chance to check in and offer words of encouragement. It was a meaningful opportunity to share in the lives of each other and, in our own small way, promote human flourishing.

Erickson / Learning about all of the needs and potential places to contribute can be overwhelming. My strategy is to clarify my own values, then find one or more causes that organically connect to those.

Meier / I would donate money to a local Seattle organization called Legal Voice that pursues justice for women and girls in the Northwest through groundbreaking litigation, legislative advocacy, and legal-rights education.

Where would you donate a small amount of money in pursuit of a more just world?

Kristof talks with a small group of women who are corporate leaders in the Seattle area
Kristof talks with a small group of women who are corporate leaders in the Seattle area

Kristof / I would focus on education. Education is the best route to empowerment, to get out of poverty, and — whether it’s Tanzania or Seattle — the neediest kids often have least access to that escalator. Often when people want to help with education, they think about building a school or doing something in direct services. That’s very important, but we also need advocates to push for better education systems. Some combination of services and advocacy is really powerful.

Mayo/ If I had only five minutes, I would use that time listening, rather than speaking or acting. I would simply want to honor the dignity of those on the margins by listening to their stories, and more importantly, listening to the solutions they identify for the challenges they face in their communities.

Stewart / My business lens is to invest in capacity-building ideas — for an individual, that often is education or capital. The idea is to build resilience and secure livelihoods for all in a community. I would learn about and work to understand a plan for a capacity-building idea.

Erickson / It only takes five minutes to put down my phone and really see the person in front of me, wonder about their story today, inquire authentically, and listen. If everyone practiced valuing their “neighbor” in this simple way, justice would expand exponentially.

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