The best paragraph I’ve read in a few weeks comes from the introduction of Paul Loeb’s Soul of a Citizen.
The dream of sanctuary is an illusion. It erodes our souls by eroding our sense of larger connection, whether to our fellow human beings or to that force that many of us call God. The walls we’re building around ourselves, around those closest to us, and ultimately around our hearts may provide a temporary feeling of security. But they can’t prevent the world from affecting us. Quite the opposite. The more we construct such barriers, the more private life, for most of us, will grow steadily more insecure. (pg. 7)
In applying Loeb’s writing to my experience on a college campus, the first thing I think of is walking past those students who simply can’t walk on campus without earphones on or a cell phone held to their ear. My sightings of these students have skyrocketed over the past three years, with iPods commonplace and cell phones becoming a staple. Each time I see a student say goodbye to a group of friends and then pull out a cell phone to call someone else, I wonder about the connection between this behavior and self-confidence.
The idea of a “larger connection,” as Loeb labels it, seems lost on many of today’s college students. Many students would seemingly rather keep listening to their music than say thank you to those holding a door open for them. It seems like they’d do anything possible to avoid having to decide whether or not to make eye contact with a stranger and utter one syllable. So what do they do? Whip out the cell phone to talk to someone that’s within their “walls.”
We’ve accomplished quite a bit last year, speaking in terms of civic engagement. College students showed an incredible amount of enthusiasm all over the country for the political process, and service-learning is playing a larger role in education across the nation. But perhaps we’re looking too much at the forest instead of zeroing in on the trees.
I’ve resisted the notion that just because youth today engage in activism online and plan it online, the Millennial brand of activism is of a diminished quality. However, I do think that youth today can improve their efforts to create positive change by challenging themselves to tear down some of those walls so they can be expanded. A face-to-face interaction with a stranger isn’t going to lead to a scolding anymore like it might if we Millennials were still trapped in your childhood. Loeb gets it right — the more we erect walls, the more insecure we get; the less walls we have surrounding us, the more confident we are.