How to be – and stay – an idealist: six take-home lessons from Character Building Week

How to be – and stay – an idealist: six take-home lessons from Character Building Week

Social distancing measures interfered with the 2020 edition of Tilburg University’s annual Gender Unlimited Festival. Last week, an alternative ‘Character Building Week’ took place. Five days in a row students, employees and other participants were challenged to think about their role in making the world a slightly better place.


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Current events put an additional emphasis on idealism, the theme that linked the five gatherings of the Week, as it was marked by continued Black Lives Matters protests around the Netherlands – and the world. Incited by contemporary issues as racism and climate change, the reoccurring question during the workshops was not if idealism is important. Rather, how do you preserve your ideals in the face of personal setbacks, and when society keeps the voices of minorities unheard?

Several hosts, among them researcher Roanne van Voorst, journalists Hasna El Maroudi and Clarice Gargard, entrepenteur Adil Izemrane, and TiU professor Conny Rijken shared their experiences. Univers attended their workshops and collected six tips on how to be – and stay – loyal to moral and ethical values you hold dear.

1. Be attentive of what triggers you

Identify your own ideals and values, by being attentive to what Conny Rijken called ‘a trigger’. “It can be an uneasy feeling when you see or read about a situation that does not sit right with you, or just even an increased heartbeat. If you feel something like that, don’t ignore it.

“A lot of people feel a trigger that should encourage them to start paying attention to their ideals, but deny or neglect this trigger. If you feel something that touches you, stop and pay attention to it. If you don’t, you will go with the flow of your day or aim for your own success and you will forget about your ideals.”

2. Remember the trigger

Adil Izemrane shared some advice for the days on which it is hard to keep up with your idealism. “There will be hurdles and distractions, and there will also be days that you just want to watch Netflix, instead of improving the world. That is human. What helps me in such a situation, is to go back to the moment I decided to put my values first.

“There will be days that you just want to watch Netflix”

“I use that one specific moment to regain my energy, to motivate myself again, to help me hold on to my ideals. So, think hard about the moment you realized what you wanted and visualize the circumstances that made you realize why you wanted it.”

3. Find a way to express yourself

Roanne van Voorst knows the importance of finding the right way to express your idea. “A right way is a way that suits you. When you found your goal or located the ideals most dear to you, find a platform that suits your personal strengths. Not everyone will write a book on vegetarianism, like I did, or feels like being an activist defending human rights on Twitter.

“Find a platform that makes you feel comfortable. This does not even have to be online. Sometimes we are an inspiration to someone else, even without knowing so, for example in a conversation with a friend or a relative.”

 4. Make it personal

For Hasna El Maroudi, idealism is at the core of her day to day job as a journalist. “I have made my values personal, and would recommend you to do the same. Apply your ideals to a situation you encounter every day.

“Don’t allow yourself to forget about your ideals”

“If you are confronted with something you see around you, like I see racism in my daily practice, it is never too far away. Don’t allow yourself to forget about your ideals. In that way, you will never let them go and they will become a part of your life.”

5. Stay critical

According to Clarice Gargard, criticism is a valuable tool. “Be critical of yourself, don’t forget to challenge yourself and your ideals because they are not set in stone. I always tell myself: I wasn’t born knowing it all.

“Idealism is a process you’ll grow into, and you can do that by staying critical about your values. Additionally it is important to value critique from others. Really try to understand criticism as something you can learn from.”

6. Put your own contribution in perspective

Even when you have put all these tips into practice, all the hosts of the Character Building Week agreed, actual system changes will still take time. Van Voorst shares a last tip: “From a historical perspective, social change always starts as something very small. The abolition of slavery was initiated by a small group of critical people.

“The idea spread slowly, but it did spread and the abolition happened within a hundred years. And even though that may seem long, that is the life span of just one generation. This is an example of how radical social change will come.”

The first meeting of Character Building Week included this pre-recorded interview with Adil Izemrane

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