Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nobody's Fault

John was a quiet, unique kid who often felt like he didn’t fit in.  He struggled academically in middle school, not because he wasn’t smart, but because feeling like an outcast occupied more of his attention than his studies did.  He was intelligent and enjoyed learning, but often fell behind and failed to complete his work.  To make matters worse, he was frequently bullied.

When high school started, things weren’t getting much better.  At last, John had a moment of significant self-awareness.  He recognized the troubling direction his life was taking, and so, in a desperate move to change things, he asked his parents to send him away to boarding school in another state.  John felt like he needed a fresh start to get his future on track, and his parents were supportive.

The new environment altered the course of John’s life.  He felt more welcome, which freed him to be himself.  He was well-liked, and began spending time with a group of fellow students who read and debated poetry and philosophy.  The experience made a lasting impression on John, creating a belief in him that, no matter how isolated and alone someone might feel, their ideal community was out there somewhere.

John graduated from college with a double major in English and Religious Studies.  For a short time, he planned to become a priest, even going so far as to enroll in Divinity School while working as a student chaplain in a children's hospital.  However, the experience of working with children suffering from life-threatening illnesses inspired him to change directions, and John decided to become an author of young adult stories instead.

Within a few years, John completed his first novel, a school story based partly on his own life.  His firsthand experience with bullying and feeling like an outsider shaped his ability to connect with young people, and he recognized that feeling lost and experiencing pain are difficult but meaningful parts of maturing.  The novel was published in 2005, and it was recognized as the year’s best book written for teens by the American Library Association. 

John Green balances being an adult with still being able to empathize with the challenges of adolescence.  This sense of understanding infuses each of his books, and has helped elevate him to international recognition as a young adult author.  His most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars, is an homage to the time he spent working in the children’s hospital.  Its tragic tale of love and the search for meaning in the face of mortality has far more to say to young readers than many other books in the YA genre.

John’s affinity for connecting has also played a significant role in sparking humanitarian efforts.  In 2007, John and his brother Hank started a YouTube video correspondence in order to keep in better touch, since they were on other sides of the country.  By posting the videos in a public forum, they were able to build a community of followers who enjoyed and identified with what the brothers had to say.  This led to their creation of the Foundation to Decrease WorldSuck.  The name was a bit of a joke, but their efforts are real.

Each year, the Foundation sponsors a charity event called the Project for Awesome, in which the brothers mobilize their massive YouTube following of over a million subscribers to create innovative videos promoting their favorite charities, with the aim of gaining awareness and donations for them.  In 2013, $869,591 was raised by the Greens’ Project for Awesome.

It’s easy to think about the problems of the world and assume that they’re too big for us to do anything about.  But if everyone thought that way, nothing would ever be done.  We Are Connected is about recognizing that we’re all in this together, and doing something, anything, to help will only make the world better for each of us.  Who would guess that a series of teen novels and weekly video conversations between two brothers would create an army of devotees ready to put their time and energy toward supporting causes they believe in?  You don’t have to be a full-time philanthropist or humanitarian in order to make a difference.  But don’t be surprised if just doing what you do well helps make the world a better place along the way.

Until Next Week,

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