What are you doing to change the world?
Being in the education business, I constantly find myself talking with students & parents about their dreams, about what it takes for young Chinese students to become the kind of superstars that change the world. That is, after all, why parents feel comfortable sending their kids to work with us – we have a great track record at helping students become truly awesome, successful people that enroll in the best colleges in the world.
It’s unfortunate, however, that for many of us, the college we attend signifies our worth as people. For so many students, simply earning an offer of admission to an Ivy League college means that they’re superstars. That they’re elite. That they’re tremendous human beings. The fact of the matter is, the college that you attend or the career that you have really doesn’t mean much of anything. It’s what you actually do that matters.
Just yesterday evening I was sitting on an airplane returning from the US, reading the latest issue of GQ magazine. You wouldn’t expect a men’s fashion magazine to be a worthwhile source of philosophical inspiration, but one article in this month’s edition really made me sit up & pay attention.
According to Michael Paterniti’s article “The Suicide Catcher,” there’s a super-long bridge in Nanjing where the depressed, beaten-down members of society constantly arrive to fling their bodies into the Yangtze river, to commit suicide, to lose all of the problems & pain in their lives. Before reading this article, I’d never heard of this bridge or the hundreds & thousands of people that have committed suicide there. I was too busy reading college rankings & NBA news, I guess.
However, apparently there’s a man by the name of Mr. Chen who’s dedicated his life to pulling people back from the brink. For years now, Mr. Chen has stood watch on the bridge everyday, large binoculars in hand, attempting to save those who come to end their lives. So far, he’s prevented 174 people from jumping off the bridge & taking their lives.
During the time that Paterniti’s article was written, Mr. Chen lost his job because he spent so much time on the bridge, & because so many of those he saved were turning up at his office to talk. No Ivy League college. No job. No fame. No riches. Just 174 real, genuine, human lives.
Honestly, reading that article made me feel guilty. I like to think that I’m helping families out. That I’m helping Chinese students achieve their dreams. We give away scholarships & make a point to help students who can’t necessarily afford tuition to US colleges. All of those things make me feel like I’m helping people. Learning about a man like Mr. Chen, however, makes me realize that a lot of what I do is superficial. Now there’s a man who’s a real superstar. A real angel. A person who has genuinely changed the world for the better.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m still going to continue helping Chinese students achieve their dreams & become the kind of people that change the world. But all of my students, all of my friends, & even I myself have to realize that there are much simpler, much more profound ways to make a real difference in the world.
Apparently Mr. Chen keeps a blog that details the stories of all the people he’s saved on the bridge. I’d love it if someone could send me a link to that blog so I can continue following this man who’s doing so much to help people. Harvard is great & all…but really, how many lives have you saved today? How many lives have I saved today?