If you’re a young person who wants to build a better world, acquire virtues.

Let’s build a society where it’s easier for people to be good to each other. 

In her new book, Becoming Wise, author and “On Being” podcast producer, Krista Tippett shares the quote above. Dorothy Day, a woman who helped found the Catholic worker movement, shared these words with the world. Although they appear short, they have such depth that when I read them, it was hard for me to let them go. Even though I helped start a nonprofit in the fall of 2007 and even though I’ve been leading that same nonprofit since the spring of 2009, I’ve never quite crystallized in such a clear and compelling way, as Ms. Day has, the work that we do. But there it is. 

For the past nine years, we’ve been working with youth. In particular, we’ve been working with university students in the U.S. and orphans and vulnerable children in South Africa. Our goal, all this time, has been to not only connect these young people with each other, but to also connect them with their purpose, developing, in the process, their potential to serve humanity. Once connected, we’ve wanted them to build the type of society Ms. Day speaks about, one in which it is easier and more natural for people to see themselves in each others’ eyes and practice habits, small and at scale, that promote the betterment of themselves and the world. 

In her book, Ms. Tippett uses virtues as a framework to explore wisdom. “The language of virtue [is] an old-fashioned word, perhaps, but one that I find is magnetic to new generations, who instinctively grasp the need for practical disciplines to translate aspiration into action.” In highlighting the appeal of young people and younger generations to virtues, Ms. Tippett gives a nod to what we know is true in our work: They are open, porous to both the thought and action of learning to be virtuous. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that they, or anyone else for that matter, learn about virtues and instantly turn into “wise” people. Sadly, our societies aren’t yet structured as places where it’s easier to be good to each other. And there are countless messages and messengers that promote the opposite. Still, we see the young people we work with try. They make attempts, meek, valiant and middle of the road. And, like all of us who are trying to be “our best selves,” they make progress. 

I’m sharing all of this to say that although we may not be unlike many other nonprofits the world over that endeavor to create positive social change by inspiring youth to build a better world. It’s important for us to be one of the ones that names for these youth, ourselves and others, in clear and unequivocal language, that we’re building a better world by helping young people acquire virtues. Perhaps practicing, day by day, being good to each other, demonstrating patience, and having courage is the only way we can shape society to be the one Ms. Day envisioned, the one we all want to ultimately see. 

If you read this far and you’re feeling what we’re saying, leave a comment below. We would love to hear what you have to say.

Paul Brown