For Tomorrow’s Leadership Still Growing Today

For twenty years, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity has been awarding its Ethics Prize to college students writing on particularly difficult ethical challenges and dilemmas in our society, and advocating the actions necessary for our society to undertake. These have now been published in a new volume, An Ethical Compass: Coming of Age in the 21st Century.

In his Foreword, Thomas L. Friedman writes that we should “look at this book and its essays as if it An Ethical Compass: Coming of Age in the 21st Century: Elie Wiesel, Thomas Friedman were a twenty-first-century survival manual, inspiration manual, and recruiting manual. Yes, ‘Help Wanted’—here and abroad: people who can inspire sustainable values. Fortunately, the applications seem to be flooding in. An America, a world, led by a generation of ethical leaders?—now that’s an innovation I’d like to invest in. But then, Elie Wiesel has been doing that kind of investing his whole life—and the rewards are on the pages that follow.”

The essays are grouped into sections on conflict, memory, conscience, education, illness, and God, and the subjects range from Andrea Useem’s “History, Memory, and the Enola Gay,” covering the controversy surrounding the 1995 Smithsonian exhibition; to Rachel Maddow’s “Identifiable Lives: AIDS and the Response to Dehumanization,” poignantly observing that “In order to account both for the reasons why acts of bigotry take place and why we should hope to end them, we must assume that people do not believe it is just to treat others inhumanely. This is fundamentally a psychological claim, not a moral claim.”

Maddow’s is a position that still resonates today with members of our society, old and young. Last week the New York Times, reporting for World AIDS Day, ran a story on the “confrontational tactics” of Ivy-League students, vying for President Obama’s attention on addressing spending for global AIDS. Unlike the typical college activism protests, these collaborators have heckled and loudly raised their points at speeches, panels, even quiet breakfasts. These recent demonstrations have caught the attention of their audiences, but bad feelings remain on all sides, even from would-be supporters, who object to the tactics used. How do we temper this into a productive conversation to move forward? An Ethical Compass will tell.

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