From High School Seniors to Ph.D candidates, graduating students undergoing commencement throughout the US and beyond are being released into the world. Some are continuing their education while others are joining the ranks of the labor force. Some know exactly what they will be doing after graduation; whereas, others are still trying to figure things out. Some will have more opportunities than others. Wherever they go and whatever they do, they are bringing with them what they have learned from their education, cultural schooling, and personal experiences. High School and college graduates will hear a great number of very diverse messages from those selected by their schools and peers to offer them some departing advice. There is, however, one thing all current, future, and past graduates should consider in all of their professional and personal doings.
The world is full of smart people. The human race has literally survived, because people are smart. Intelligence varies, but all people are smart. Throughout history, handfuls of really smart people have made their ways into position of influence, which has given them access to the resources they needed to help human civilization progress. As education has become a commodity enjoyed by more and more of the population, the number of educated people has grown. Consequently, the world is now filled with a lot of smart people and a lot of educated, smart people. Because employers prize education as a key qualification, many smart, educated people have the opportunity to help the human population continue to thrive. Smart and educated does not, however, always mean thoughtful. Unfortunately, the harshness of nature creates a lot of challenges for humanities, but a lack of thoughtfulness on behalf of people creates more problems than anything.
To be thoughtful means to consider the impact of one’s actions on others and the surrounding environment. Thoughtfulness is the act of being aware of one’s impact and taking measures to have a constructive impact. Whether something as simple as ignoring the old lady struggling to reach a can on the top shelf at the grocery story or as significant as ignoring someone in need of medical care, a lack of thoughtfulness has a harmful impact on others. The degenerative impact on other people and communities is only magnified when thoughtlessness is practiced by hundreds, thousands, and millions. Thoughtlessness is particularly harmful when practiced by businessmen, engineers, doctors, lawyers, researchers, and policymakers. No matter how smart or how educated, no one is immune to the impulse to be thoughtless. Acts of thoughtlessness for those in influential positions are not inherently less likely. They are simply more costly.
Modern society continues to experience exponential growth in the amount of available knowledge, increased depth to the educational experience, and rapid technological advances. People may know a lot more, know how to do a lot more, and have a lot more really useful toys, which can easily encourage thoughtlessness, but that that does not mean people are inherently more thoughtful. Unfortunately, academia has a tendency to judge the degree of one’s educational success based on their knowledge base and technical skills. It is too often presumed people have managed to learn how to think as their brains were being crammed with facts and their minds trained to solve problems. The classic and modern approaches to educating students helps cultivate a lot of people’s natural gifts and make them experts in their fields, but thoughtfulness is something very difficult to teach in the classroom, especially when it is not a a priority and a culture discourages it.
Thoughtfulness belongs to that set of skills often called “soft skills.” As such, it must practiced and honed on a daily basis. It is something that people must actively pursue in every aspect of their life. It is something that must be cultured into people. What this means is that there must be a group effort to instill thoughtfulness into each other. Schools are, of course, controlled social environments where people are trained to be more functional members of society, so soft skills can be purposefully instilled. Consequently, schools can and need to do a better job of creating cultures of thoughtfulness. That said, graduates have the power to take what they have learned and apply thoughtful practices to that education, so they become more thoughtful people, solve more problems, and encourage more people to be thoughtful. In other words, graduates can become leaders, which society desperately needs, by becoming more thoughtful. Moreover, thoughtlessness has helped create, or exasperate, countless problems across the globe, but thoughtfulness is what will help the world solve all the problems it faces.
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