Just before leaving for Nigeria I called my daughter Samara, a college freshman at NYU, to say good bye. After a short but pleasant conversation she closed with: “Save the world, daddy. I love you.”
I suspect her remark was affectionate teasing, implying that her nearly 69 year old father is a sort of Don Quixote, jousting with wind mills and naively believing in the idea of a noble quest. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t think I’m really going to change the world, but it meant a lot to me that she encouraged me to try.
Sweetened by calling me “daddy” and telling me she loves me, her invocation to save the world was a perfect send off to a journey many friends think is a fool’s errand fraught with complexity and risks and likely to be inconsequential.
I don’t know whether there will ever be an effective CHARACTER COUNTS! initiative in Nigeria, but I know this is not a waste of time,
Gaining a deeper understanding of the traditions and values embodied in this complex, huge nation (the 7th largest in the world) and the daunting challenges of social change has convinced me of the power inherent in idealism and the effectiveness of realistic optimism. We need people who believe they can change the world. This belief is a necessary catalyst to moderate reforms as well as radical revolutions.
Whether it’s combatting avoidable diseases; the monumental immorality of human trafficking; gender, ethnic or religious based persecutions, or pervasive corruption abroad or the problems of social justice, greed and eroding ethics at home, the good news is there are literally thousands of good people dedicating their lives to changing the world – and they are making a difference.
History proves that the army of cynics that directly or indirectly preserve the status quo cannot forever resist the efforts of dedicated, optimistic world changers who do whatever they can, whenever they can with whatever they have undeterred by ridicule or the possibility of failure.
Personal note: The Nigerians I’ve met are an odd mix of cynicism and optimism. Many have an almost fatalistic attitude, especially about the fact that most people in government are more concerned with enriching themselves than improving the lives of their fellow citizens. At the same time, there is an irrepressible hope that things can and will become better. Almost everyone who learns of the purpose of my visit – the immigration officer who checked my passport, the bellman who helped me with the luggage and more than a dozen highly accomplished men and women from all walks of life – volunteers their view that “we really need this, here” and they do so in a tone that encourages the effort rather than condemns it.