Earlier in the year I started following New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (on Twitter) after his great column on the segregation of politics. (Which I blogged about here.) Kristof is not only one of the best columnists and writers around (two time winner of the Pulitzer), he leverages his position and influence to bring about change and advancement around the world.
Unbeknownst to me, he was scheduled to speak at Kaneko as part of the Great Minds Series. I found out about it through a contest Silicon Prairie News was doing to promote the event. I answered a question correctly about Kristof, and won a free ticket to hear him speak at Kaneko tonight.
Kristof shared from his journalism experiences in China, Sudan, Congo, Cambodia and more. It was challenging and inspiring. He imparted to the audience to be engaged with the world around them. (See the world and engage yourself.) He encouraged students to get out and travel, to leave their comfort zone.
He also shared about the importance of story in communicating what’s happening around the world. The reason for this is it engages with people. Kristof is acutely aware of how best to write and report so that it connects with people. He studies social psychology so he can best impact his readers. Why? So they’ll be encouraged to make a difference in the world.
The hardships…well, the evil that is around this world is hard to imagine sometimes. Kristof shared a bit on some of these horrendous situations. Babies being thrown on a bonfire in a genocide, daughters being sold to brothels, the death that is happening in Congo, families risking death for water. Horrendous stuff around the world. But the really depressing thing, Kristof said, is coming back to America and watching people only care about the latest cell phone.
What can one do? Well, you can help kids get dewormed. Yep. Many children in developing countries have worms that prevent good health in them. Through providing a pill to these kids, they get healthy. This leads to them being in school more because they’re not sick. They’re in school on average of 30 more days.
Is education everything? No, but it helps. Education can help women understand about menstruation. Kristof shared how in many parts of the world, menstruation is taboo. Girls don’t leave home for school because they don’t have underwear of hygiene products. They miss school and fall behind.
To make a difference, it takes commitment. Kristof said, “Helping people is a lot harder than it looks.” It’s harder, but it’s fulfilling. Kristof stressed how being engaged with social justice, and not just writing a check, brings fulfillment.
Once Kristof was done speaking, he shared the stage with Sonia Nazario. Nazario is another award-winning journalist. They both shared about the importance of going to the frontlines to be able to write stories that will impact people. It was interesting to hear them talk about the tension they wrestle with when it comes to reporting on stories, but not getting involved where it changes the stories. It’s tough because everyone wants a happy ending with the story, but that’s not always the case.
It’s a risk to go to the frontlines. Sometimes, journalists face bigger risks than the military because they are going to the frontlines in these conflicts around the world. Kristof and Nazario shared some of the risks they took in their stories, and how they handled those risks.
During the Q&A they were asked about religion’s role in some of the difficult situations around the world. Kristof and Nazario were fair in saying there are times religion is restrictive and progressive. Kristof told of how Pentecostals are bringing about positive change in Africa by encouraging people to not drink, do drugs or be immoral. Nazario told of how the Catholic Church is making it difficult for people in Central America to get out of poverty due to their stance on birth control. Families keep having kids and end up supporting six children when they could be supporting two.
The two of them also shared briefly on the newspaper industry and longform journalism during the Q&A. This to me was the weakest point of the evening, unfortunately. I wish Kristof would’ve spoken more about how his longform journalism still takes place on his blog. Longform journalism is not a dying art that is only found in newspapers, but one could surmise that from what Nazario said.
It was a wonderful evening, a treat to listen to Nicholas Kristof. Obviously, I’m a fan of Kristof’s work, but I’m usually enamored with listening to an expert in their field. Nazario was good as well, and I look forward to reading more of her work.
There’s a lot to learn from Kristof’s life.
We (Americans) have won the lottery of life. There is responsibility with that. -Nicholas Kristof