Roméo Dallaire recently came to give a lecture at Glendon, as part of the John W. Holmes Memorial Lecture Series. He covered a lot in his lecture – equality, change, leadership – but the thing that affected me the most was the challenge that he made to the young people of Canada and the developed world.
Here’s the gist of what he said:Every student who has graduated from high school or university from a developed country should undergo a “rite of passage”: serving in a developing country following graduation. We should all have a pair of dirty boots sitting under their bed, soiled from serving in the developing world.
Dirty boots. They’re not glamorous, or comfortable, or sought-after; they represent hard work, patience, and persistence.
Dallaire’s vision of change was equally as unglamorous. He described it as something built upon:
the choice to feel uncomfortable in the midst of injustice;
the choice to act in a culture of inaction;
the choice to persist for small gains, in the pursuit of long-term goals.
It’s easy to want to change the world, but to work for that change with humility is a whole other story. Dallaire made me check my perspective. My focus is often in all the wrong places, but somehow the image of “dirty boots” centers them all.
Dallaire was the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the genocide that occurred there in 1994, during which over 800,000 Rwandans were murdered. I highly recommend the documentary based on his journey, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire. Find out more about Roméo here.