On Sunday, I attended a talk by Craig Kielburger at the Sanderson Centre, as a part of the Word in Square event in Brantford. There is a good chance you already know who Kielburger is, but there is also just as good of a chance you've never heard of him (since he has never appeared in Jersey Shore, you see). He is the founder of the children rights charity/advocate group Free the Children and co-founder of the yearly Me to We Day conference (this year it was held on September 30th at the Air Canada Centre and packed in 16000 students). Kielburger has been a child right advocate ever since he was 12 years old and came across an article about the murder of Igbal Masih (who was a 12 year old Pakistani boy who became a spokesman against child labour, after he had escaped forced labour at a carpet factory). This story lead Kielburger to form Free the Children, which eventually lead to him traveling to Bangladesh to check out working conditions and then proceed to talk about child labour with several world leaders (all at the age of 12). Since that time, his organization has built over 500 schools and developed numerous programs for developing countries. If that isn't the type of thing that impresses you, then maybe you'd do back flips over the knowledge that he has been on Oprah before, and got her to build 100 schools in Africa (well, she paid for the building of them). He has also won an assortment of humanitarian awards and published four bestselling books. I'd say the guy has a pretty impressive resume when it comes to making a positive impact in this world of ours.
When listening to Craig Kielburger speak, I noticed three major things about him which where 1) he is incredibly passionate about making a change in the world, 2) he is amazingly humble for all of his success, and 3) he is probably the definition of an idealist. I shouldn't be surprised by his passion because one can't accomplish what he has done in such a short time if they don't have the desire and drive, along with really caring about the tasks set ahead of him. The things he has seen and been apart of has probably contributed to him being rather humble. He seems to be a person who is always open to learning more and allowing for the input of others (rather than believing himself to be the sole expert). As for his idealism, you don't try changing the world at the age of 12 years old unless you have some of that.
The main purpose of Kielburgers' talk was to encourage the kids to try to go out and make a major difference in their community (and world), and reassure them that they have gifts and skills that can be used to do things of value and worth. He also reminded parents, teachers and adults that they need to be the role models and agents necessary to motivate and encourage kids to reach their potential. Though at the same time, his speech was making it clear that adults can also still leave a lasting impact as well. The combination of engaging rhetoric, life stories and video packages caused almost every audience member to come out of the talk feeling inspired. I realize this sounds like an overly optimistic and idealistic speech on his part, but this was not something Keilburger ever denied. Instead, he openly admitted to being a idealist and also argued that he did not think it was criticism but rather a compliment.
I really enjoyed Kielburger's presentation, and really admired what the man has done while also remaining so down to earth and full of humility. After inspiring the crowd at the Sanderson Centre to give him a standing ovation, he not only blushed but almost seemed ashamed of that type of recognition. This is a man who isn't out for fame, but rather trying to truly aid the many disadvantaged children throughout the world. At the same time, he is trying to inspire others to join him in his efforts to make the world a better place (but not necessarily in the same cause). It is noble and admirable. Now, I also admit that conferences or speeches like this are also apt to fill one with inspiration and desires to do something great, but often then lead to the same person continuing to do exactly what they did before the wave of inspiration. I am sure many of the parents that nodded and clapped at the presentation, will then continue to keep the exact same parental strategies they used before. The majority of kids that left the Sanderson Centre may have been inspired to do great things, but then will forget all about it when they get distracted by something shiny. I realize there is motivational speeches being done every day, and I also realize they rarely (likely never) cause the whole audience to be transformed into world changers. But I also think that this train of thought is the monumental example of missing the point. Kielburger may not have changed the lives of all the children and adults in attendance, but if he inspires one person to actually think outside the box and try to make a huge positive impact on this world (then proceed to be successful), then I'm sure Kielburger will deem it a success. Of course, Kielburger wasn't necessarily even trying to motivate children to attempt to make an impact outside of their own city, as he cited examples of kids taking action in their own community, such as boys who started pink shirt day. The point was that any person is capable of making a positive difference (local or abroad), but they need to have the courage to take the necessary action.
I really think a talk like this is extremely important, because it seems like there has been a strong case of parents sheltering their kids over the last several years. I could do an entire weeks worth of posts about that particular topic, so I'll avoid going overly deep here. I am not a parent, but I can understand that there is the strong desire to have what you feel is best for your child and to protect your child. This has led many people to set a specific path out for their child, and provide things they think their child needs in order to accomplish this journey. They want their kids to head off to University and get a degree, then continue on to become lawyers or doctors or some other highly respected profession. I am not saying that is necessarily bad, because after all, this country really needs doctors (lawyers is more debatable). There seems to be this need to hide the kids away from the scary and bad things. Or embed into the child the values and beliefs and goals that the parents thinks will give the child the best life possible (which often happen to be their own). And again, I am not saying this is entirely bad, but I do think it stops us from being able to produce entrepreneurs or inventors or innovators. I won't deny that children are impressionable and there is some need to keep them protected. I also think there is a case of being overly protective or blocking a child from reaching what could be an amazing potential. Kielburger talks about how his parents were terrified of his plan to backpack in Asia at the age of 12, but after lots of persistence and work, they eventually allowed him to do it. I am not saying that all kids should be shipped off to a foreign country, but I am saying many have the potential to do some remarkable things but are being held back. I don't believe Kielburger was the only child who could have talked among world leaders, but he was the one who was afforded that opportunity and chance.
Some parents like the notion of people going out to foreign countries and doing the charitable work to aid the people there, but they only like it when it is being done by those who are not their children. It reminds me of when I finished watching an episode of TJ Hooker, and I told my mom I now wanted to be a cop. She quickly shot down that dream by telling me cops get shot and then die. I am sure my mom is all for a police force, but she didn't want to imagine her six year old boy being apart of that (well, I don't think they even hired six year olds until at least the film Cop and A Half). Some prefer to keep their child in a bubble where they only know about the beliefs and events of their own neighbourhood, because apparently, that is what is healthy for a child.
I think children should be encouraged to dream. I think, they should be made aware of the world around them. I think. kids should be able to get off the 'chosen path' and explore new things. Now. I realize that some of you may be thinking that these motivational talks and pushes for kids to dream big are misleading and detrimental, because it makes children or people delusional to the point where they think they're capable of accomplishing things that are beyond their skills and talent. You may think it is harmful to tell a child, they are capable to do anything they set their mind to, because it will set them up for failure and disappointment. In return, I kindly retort, bullshit. I believe the entire notion of failure is completely and utterly overrated. The fact is, anyone who takes a risk or dreams big, is destined to hit failure at some point in their life. Failure is inevitable. The things is, you learn from failure. The boy who dreams of becoming a NBA star, will eventually learn that his lack of vertical leap and tendency to trip over himself will exclude him from any future NBA draft picks. The girl who dreams of being a musician may find herself waiting tables during the week, while doing bar gigs on weekends for about the equivalent of a pitcher. As for the boy, he will likely start realizing he is much more talented at something else or discover a new hobby, or maybe still find something that he is highly capable at that is related to the sport. The girl after ten years of struggling and persevering may finally land the recording contract, and realize all her struggles paid off, or she will never make it big but still be ecstatic that she can do what she loves on weekends. The things is, people and children need to be given the chance to fail. More importantly, they need the chance to dream big and know about the world around them. It is the only way we will ever have folks who can make this world a better place. I know that following dreams have risks and hard work and struggles and the chance for epic failure, but the potential for greatness is only achieved if you actually make the effort towards it. Children need an environment that fosters and allows that, if they are ever to get a chance to do something unique, powerful and world-changing.
I know a lot of people are inspired by Kielburger, and they should be. The man has done some amazing things, and has proven to be a legitimately nice guy, too. He has a heart for the disadvantaged and he is doing something about it. You can't help, but be inspired by that. I think, his greatest message is the one most will think is overly idealistic. It is that everyone has the potential to make a positive and profound difference in this world. It is just a matter of making yourself aware of the world around you, and taking the risk of actually dreaming big, then following through on trying to make those dreams a reality.
As you can see. I am a bit of an idealist too.