Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

[COMMUNITIES] Melissa Aratani Kwee's Take on Ethics

Expand Messages
  • madchinaman
    Can you carry on the UWC Ideals in the Post IB World by Melissa Aratani Kwee (Alumni & Former Chair of the Community Council)
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 16, 2004
      Can you carry on the UWC Ideals in the Post IB World
      by Melissa Aratani Kwee (Alumni & Former Chair of the Community

      There are some people who believe that ethics are privileges one
      aspires to when one is able; a satirist once remarked "he couldn't
      afford them." There are others who believe that ethics and the
      practice of one's principles are more an inherent right of each
      individual, the principles and actions that define a person's life.
      I tend to agree with the latter school of thought.

      I find it a hopeful irony that ten years after my own graduation,
      there are still seniors sitting in a large hall debating the
      relevance of our UWC ideals. The same questions abound; `Do we
      understand what `UWC ideals' really means?', `Are ideals just
      impractical and hard to maintain?', `Are the UWC ideals really
      feasible in the `real world'?' `Is there really a place for
      practicing respect for other peoples and service to the community
      when you've got a job, bills to pay and a family?"

      The questions we asked were the same and largely I believe, because
      what we understand as UWC ideals, are beliefs that are so great and
      momentous that reaching them would go beyond our wildest
      imaginings. Our ideals loom so large that even living in search of
      them daunts us. Our movement's patron Nelson Mandela said in his
      1994 Inaugural Speech "Our deepest fear is not that we are
      inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond

      I think this is especially true for young people, myself included.
      The power and energy of idealism, the blazing blind faith that every
      individual matters and can make a contribution to the well-being of
      our society and ecology, is what fuels student movements that change
      governments, that influence global economies, and show the world
      what a few concerned individuals can do. This is the possibility
      that scares us.

      * * * *

      So what does the post IB world look like? And why does it seem so
      hard to retain or practice the UWC ideals? Life after school is
      still about learning, but learning in a very different way.
      Academic institutions formalise our education, instruct very
      clearly, grades us, and provide us with a menu of extra curricular
      activities. "Work life" or "real life" as it mistakenly referred to,
      is just like that – but with different metrics. We just measure our
      grades with salaries, our activities with time spent on hobbies, and
      our teachers are now friends, colleagues and even strangers who
      provoke us to learn about different issues, our selves and others.
      The landscape seems to change, but actually, there are more
      similarities than we often perceive.

      Our perceptions are what help us make sense of the world, and yet
      letting go of certain perceptions is what helps us break new ground
      and move beyond our perceived limitations. One perception that
      needs to be reconsidered in light of our question about the
      feasibility of our UWC ideals, is the idea that UWC ideals are only
      being practiced when one is engaged in direct service work to
      alleviate suffering or promote world peace. We have this
      perception, that the only real UWC-ers are the people who work in
      multi-lateral organisations like the UN or the Asian Development
      Bank; or who join non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the
      Red Cross, or the Peace Corp; or some small grassroots group helping
      to save dying llamas in Peru. I know this perception exists,
      because I once subscribed to it.

      When I was 15 and doing my GCSEs, I learned of the terrible famines
      in Sudan and Ethiopia and I wanted to quit school and run off to
      become an aid worker feeding the starving thousands. Strongly
      advised by parents and teachers to stay put and finish my schooling,
      I reluctantly did. Then again, in my IB, I was exposed to the
      devastating soil erosion in Nepal which stripped the land of its
      fertility and the people of their subsistence

      I used to think that the only real way to make the difference I so
      desperately wanted to make was to get out there and do it myself,
      get my hands dirty, so to speak.

      An anthropology degree, a post-graduate fellowship, a new language,
      and several bouts of dysentery later, I can say, I have been there.
      I have been "in the trenches" and it has not been without its own
      politics, human frailties, and obstacles that we face in the "real
      world." It was my own awakening.

      My realization that I wish to share is that it is not what one does
      that makes a difference but rather how one does it. The greatest
      changes are made up of millions of tiny steps, small fragments of
      effort and care that make the mountains move. I believe all of us
      whether in the private, public or not-for-profit sector, have the
      capacity to enable others, to show them care and respect, to offer
      an inspiring vision, or defend a defenseless person. These small
      actions are what define our UWC ideals as universal ideals, and the
      pursuit of them not an elusive privilege but a right and a joyful
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.