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I had a really great conversation with another PLAer this week. We started off commiserating about the current state of affairs of the United States: gun violence, our questionable democracy, broken healthcare system, and lack of general empathy and understanding between individuals from different backgrounds. Sometimes these conversations end with a general feeling of “nothing can be done”. However, a professor that I just started collaborating with has changed my feelings on this conclusion, insisting that we have a “moral obligation to be positive”. As an aspiring change-maker in global health, I have the moral obligation to keep tackling the hard issues, no matter how challenging they may be. Curing HIV or eradicating TB may seem like impossible tasks, but we’ll never get there if people give up on it. I think this statement- having a moral obligation to be positive – is true of everyone, especially leaders, regardless of your field of expertise.

Back to the conversation- we started off wondering why senseless acts like the most recent shooting in Las Vegas happened. After gathering more information about the happening from NPR, we asked ourselves why a person would be possessed to commit such a crime. This led us to that he had the means to do it. So why did he have so many weapons? Current laws in the U.S. surrounding gun purchasing and carrying. This sparked thoughts about how the rest of the world views Americans and our gun policies. Eventually, after we kept asking “why” over and over again, we got to what seemed like the true root of the issue. The problem isn’t just that U.S. gun laws are not strict enough, but that our country is so divided that people don’t feel like their views are heard or understood. This may lead to people doing senseless, horrible things like open firing on a group of people: to draw attention to their views and let the world know that they exist.

Another professor of mine keeps insisting that in the near future, computers will be able to do anything humans can do, besides be critical thinkers. Strategies such as asking “why” over and over again are an effective way to kick start the critical thinking process and get to the true roots of issues that we care about, in order to begin to make change. As my education at Penn State comes to a close, I’m increasingly appreciative of the opportunities I’ve had to develop my critical thinking skills. PLA has been a big one, and I think that this ability is my most important skill as a leader and change-maker, which can’t be replaced by AI or computers.

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