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Pulitzer Prize Winner Speaks in Wayne

Discusses how to make a difference as global citizens

Nicholas Kristof has spent his entire life traveling the world. He has visited all 50 states and more than 140 countries. He has written two books, been an op-ed writer for the prestigious New York Times and won two Pulitzer prizes. He and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, have even become the first couple to ever win a Pulitzer together.

Yet, for Kristof, the greatest thrill comes in creating opportunity for those who have none.

On Monday, Nov. 3, Kristof addressed members of the Wayne community in a speech delivered at Wayne Presbyterian Church. The speech elaborated on the ideas expressed in a book he recently authored with his wife, “A Path Appears,” which hit the shelves on Sept. 23. In their book, they discuss ways in which we can be effective global citizens and make a difference for those less fortunate at home and abroad.

Kristof dealt primarily with poverty and began his treatment of the subject by looking at education as a solution. He said that though many people feel that education must be amended through the allocation of large sums of money toward building more “brick and mortar” school buildings, there are many easier ways to help if one does have the money to give. As an example, he alluded to pills designed to treat intestinal worms, which hinder school attendance in a number of underdeveloped areas. These pills for one child can cost as little as $3.50 annually.

Kristof cautioned that moving people of privilege to take action cannot be done without bridging what he referred to as the “empathy gap.” He pointed out that in the United States, the wealthiest 20 percent of people give significantly less to charity than the poorest 20 percent. The “empathy gap” has an insulating effect for those wealthy people. It is when you encounter those less fortunate, he said, that you are moved to take the most action. He expanded on this point in the Q&A session when a middle-aged mother asked how best to get her children involved despite living in the wealthy Main Line area, and he responded that the best method is to travel, volunteer and visit different worlds to become exposed to places different from one’s own.

Kristof then moved into a discussion about how to make an impact in the families of those less fortunate. He feels that the earlier in life you help these people, the more their lives can be improved. He explained that, according to a study, the stress hormone cortisol is created when we experience a lack of human contact at an early age. High amounts of cortisol during infancy can create health and mental issues down the road, necessitating strong family values.

Throughout his speech, Kristof made a distinction between “inequality” and “opportunity,” saying he prefers to speak in terms of the latter. He stressed that all of these issues are more complicated than “Republican versus Democrat” or “rich versus poor.” They are more layered than such simplistic distinctions.

Kristof remains driven to continue making a difference. He left with the story of his father, a World War II refugee who was only able to come to the United States through being sponsored by a family in Portland, Oregon. It transformed his father’s life and by extension gave Kristof the opportunity to be who he is today. It was the most powerful part of what was truly a powerful speech.

“Everything we do is just a drop in the bucket,” said Kristof. “I’m a believer in drops in the bucket.”

For more information on Kristof and WuDunnís A Path Appears, visit apathappears.org.

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