It’s cool to care

I am one of those people that always has my water bottle by my side. It is a clear Nalgene with a bright yellow splash guard and is covered with various stickers. One sticker in particular always stands out to me. This bright orange, square sticker slapped haphazardly on the side of my bottle, though small, has an important message: It’s cool to care.

As I’ve lived my (very short) life, I’ve grown to care passionately about a lot of things. Many of these things are quite simple: snowcones, Harry Potter, dogs, boys, traveling, rock climbing, skiing, cheese, etc. The things I care most passionately about, however, relate to people.

As a teenager I volunteered with refugees, disabled children, and hospitalized children. Directly following high school graduation, I spent about a month in rural Kenya working on a variety of development projects including education, construction, and women’s health. This trip fundamentally changed the way I view my culture, other people, and the world in general.

Following my trip to Kenya, I started studying at Brigham Young University. Five years later, I am graduating with a BA in Political Science, two minors in International Development and Environmental Science, and a whole bunch of incredible experiences. During my time at BYU I’ve added quite a few things to my “care-about” list: refugee resettlement, gender equality, environmental protection, political activism, nonprofits, international development, maternal health, minimalism, poverty alleviation, among other topics.

Although the last five years have been very busy, they have been filled with incredible experiences. I believe that in order to have a truly meaningful life, a person needs to care about things happening in the world and their community. I’ve found three simple ways to care more and become more involved.

  1. Read, watch, or listen

Learning about issues is the first step to caring about something. Choose your medium and start learning about issues. Read NPR, or better yet, read books. Watch documentaries or TedTalks. Listen to podcasts. Basically, the more you learn about issues, the more you’ll care about things. As you learn more about the world, you’ll realize there is a lot of important stuff happening in which you can be involved. Commit now to take at least five minutes a day to scan the news, or next time you’re binge watching Netflix, choose a documentary instead of rewatching The Office.

Of course, it must be noted that you should care about depth as well as breadth. If you find a topic you really enjoy learning about, try to learn all you can about that topic. Don’t be satisfied with knowing the basics and don’t just read things you’re biased towards. For example, I care very strongly about protecting Utah wilderness. So, I read a lot of Ed Abbey, but I read all of Chaffetz, Bishop, and Lee’s arguments against protection as well. Learning a lot about a topic and specifically knowing the different facets of the topic allows you to be more balanced than extreme.

2. Learn about people’s experiences

Talking to people helps you develop compassion.

I think it is common to be unaware about things that don’t affect you. If you don’t appreciate nature, why think about environmental protection? If you’re able to reach the American Dream, then why care about the million others that can’t? If you’ve never been scared to walk home at night alone, why would you think other people would be?

You get the point.

It is easy to be blinded by your own life and experiences. Without talking to people with diverse experiences, you may begin to believe your day-to-day reality reflects everyone’s reality. However, if you talk to people and try to understand their viewpoints, you’ll realize a person’s life might be different than yours. These differences highly influence the things you care about.

For example, I grew up in Utah. I love skiing, hiking, camping, rock climbing — pretty much I love being outside, and I think we should keep Utah wild (#protectwildutah). I think using the land in Southern Utah for more mining and drilling would be disastrous. However, about a year ago, I went to a public hearing regarding coal mining, and it was an incredibly powerful experience. I was able to hear from both people who oppose coal mining and those that support it. While the supporters didn’t change my opinion regarding coal mining, they did help me have a more compassionate understanding of the situation. It helped me learn more about the nuances of the topic and allowed me to care even more.

We shouldn’t wait for something to personally affect our lives before we care about it. Talk to people. Hear their stories. Develop compassion. If you do those things, you’ll start to care about more things happening around you.

3. Talk with everyone you know

Once you start to really care about something, talk to everyone you know about it.

Don’t be afraid to have meaningful conversations with people.

I promise that having conversations about things you care about strengthens your relationships. You’ll find people that are engaging and interesting. Meeting people won’t be filled with agonizing small talk because you’ll be able to talk about things you care about.

Please note: I have learned over the years that there is a time and place for everything. As a freshman, newly returned from Kenya where I personally met witi girls that had undergone FGM (Female genital mutiliation), I wanted to talk to everyone about it. However, I quickly learned that talking about FGM on a first date is a bit much.

And, as always, remember to be respectful as you talk about the things you care about. Some people have really strong opinions or are personally affected by the things you care passionately about. Be sure to always treat others (and their opinions) with respect. I was having dinner with a new friend not too long ago, and we started talking about the current political attacks on public lands. I started respectfully criticizing certain Utah politicains for their actions, but didn’t say anything particularly rude. You could imagine my relief that I was respectfully when I found out my new friend was closely related to one of those politicians. You never know who is affected by these different topics, so be sure to always be respectful.

In conclusion, I would just reiterate the importance of caring.

Remember my small, orange sticker on my water bottle: it’s cool to care. I understand that there are so many reasons to not be involved or to not care. Caring hurts sometimes — you become so invested in something and it hurts when things go wrong. I know my sticker says it’s cool to care, but I also know many words could replace cool. Its overwhelming to care. Frustrating. Disheartening. Exciting. Interesting. Engaging. Important.

In the end, caring about issues shows you care about those around you. It shows you’re willing to think about things outside yourself. It shows you’re compassionate.

So remember, it’s cool to care.