Students, especially those who are completing their final IB exams and secondary education this year, may wonder what they will do beyond school; what courses they will undertake; what work they will engage in; and especially, how they will use their talents. We all know of individuals who have used their talents, knowledge and skills for the betterment of society. Others, with considerable abilities, have misused their talents to damage individuals, communities or numerous countries. How individuals use their talents determines how they will be remembered.
Howard Gardner, speaking at a National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) Conference, contrasted two individuals, Slobodan Milosevic and Nelson Mandela, who both possessed talents and strong interpersonal skills, but used them in very different ways. I'm sure we can all think of other individuals to contrast: Adolph Hitler, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Idi Amin, Mohandas Gandhi. They all had talents, but they didn't all use them for the benefit of their communities or for humanity.
There are others, such as Cecil Rhodes, Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who initially used their talents primarily to acquire wealth, but then used that wealth to establish scholarships, libraries, philanthropic foundations; to provide healthcare programmes and educational opportunities for disadvantaged communities. Why would these philanthropists use their talents to accumulate great wealth and then give the money away?
Research in the Positive Psychology field has identified that once we have sufficient financial resources to provide adequate shelter, food and clothing, increased wealth (although initially enjoyed) does not bring a sustained increase in the level of happiness. Doing something meaningful for others is far more likely to increase one's personal happiness. It was Dr Albert Schweitzer who said "I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know, the only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve."
We don't have to rely on history or stories of those who became famous for their good works or infamous for the destruction they caused to see how talents can be used wisely or misused. Philanthropy has been described as the "sharing of time, talent, and treasure for the common good." There are many unheralded students and people in our communities who use their time and talents well. This can happen in small ways: through CAS, with friends, in families, in our communities and through international endeavours. We can each choose to use our talents wisely to benefit others. As the adolescent Anne Frank said, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."
© Michele Juratowitch