Eric Shagrin is an American teenager and a spirited student ambassador for Letters of Love.
In this interview, Eric speaks with us about his work with Letters of Love (LOL) and otherwise in reducing political polarization, highlighting the value of empathy and tells us about the various dimensions of peace.
Q1. How would you best describe yourself?
Motivated teen excited to take on and conquer the many global challenges. I would also describe myself as ambitious, empathetic and determined.
Q2. When did you first become aware of the Syrian situation?
I don’t particularly remember when I first became aware, but I have known about the war and the refugee crisis for some years now. The first two times I remember seriously contemplating the refugee crisis were when the viral pictures of the Syrian kid washed ashore the Mediterranean and the kid who was covered in blood by a drone strike in Syria were circulated. But, I never really became fully aware until I associated myself with LOL.
Q3. Could you tell us about your rendezvous with Letters of Love?
My first sensitization presentation for LOL was at Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton FL to the 7th grade. I was incredibly impressed by the students’ activeness and willingness to be involved, talk and answer questions. Because of that, the module went relatively smoothly and I was able to explain the letter writing activity. When I walked around to take pictures, I was joyful and hopeful because of the effort and love they put into their letters. It was really a great feeling of meaning, purpose and positive impact walking around realizing how easily the students responded to this message of empathy and genuinely cared about helping the Syrian Refugees.
Q4. What is the kind of social work you have undertaken until now?
For community service, I working with an organization named “TOPSoccer” to play soccer with a special needs’ child named Jonathon for 9 weeks out of the year (Saturdays for about 1- 2 hours). Also, I and my fellow student ambassador Ariel Zbeda are working on a project called “Working for Why”. We are calling American students to record themselves answering questions about their political beliefs and what is at the root of them. We believe sharing thesewill create empathy and combat polarity. Lastly, I am the co-president of the TED-Ed club. We put on a TEDxPineCrestSchool (this is the first year). I love TED for a similar reason I love the LOL modules: it spreads love, brilliance, great ideas and propels change.
Q5. What specifically prompted you to take action?
I’ve heard tragedies about the refugees, but the real reason I took action was Pooja (LOL founder). She told me about LoL at Seeds of Peace and it was the first time I realized that I can make a difference. I had been looking for incredible opportunities like this, and her energy, excitement, and resilience prompted me to get involved.
Q6. Why do you think it’s important for persons of all ages living in peaceful and privileged societies to be aware of the crisis in Syria and other conflict areas?
I think it’s important because it tends to be relatively privileged people that end up in positions of power, they must utilise this in lifting the less privileged to a better position. Although I believe it is possible for everyone to make a difference (no matter what the income or social standing), I think teaching the privileged about empathy and the refugee crisis is incredibly important to create change. The kids I presented to will likely be making decisions in politics, business and the non-profit arena and should know the possible implications they could have globally. Also, this can be the beginning of them starting projects, spreading the word and making the group fighting for the disenfranchised stronger and larger.
Q7. What do you thinkare the moral obligations of a civil society when societies in other parts of the world are facing a crisis of this magnitude?
Personally, I feel a strong senseof obligation to “give back” because of the luck I was born into. Everyone is searching for a sense of meaning, and although I believe the privileged have a responsibility to help others, I believe that comes in different forms. Some people believe strongly in giving back to their own family, others to domestic crises, others to global crises etc. I believe all of those are all noble. But, I think citizens of civil societies have an obligation to give to others whole heartedly. I think the obligation comes from recognizing and empathizing with others’ suffering and providing help. However, I do not believe the obligation is to help a specific crises or specific problem. When it is a macro organization (governments, global groups, UN, etc.), I believe then there is an obligation to give specifically to large crises such as the refugee crisis.
Q8. If you had to give a message to the leaders of the world, what would it be?
As the world becomes more globalized and connected, it is not only important, but necessary to work amicably with everyone. Every country and person has skills which are potentially paramount in solving the global crises and creating a peaceful world.
Q9. What are your plans for the near future?
In the near future, I plan on continuing my work with LOL and pursuing other related projects and extracurricular activities. Given this is an academically intense year, I will likely spend a lot of time on school work, the SATs and college applications. Lastly, I am hopefulI will be able to spend quality time with my friends and family.
Q10. What is your vision for the world?
My vision for the world is peace in all of its forms. International peace: no wars or conflicts. Personal peace for everyone: we are content with who we are, our position in the world, and our opportunities. In essence, everyone going to bed comfortable and happy with who we can be, what we can bring to the table, and the opportunities we have. I think this would solve nearly all of the global epidemics.
Q11. What would be your message of love to fellow citizens of the world?
No matter how dark it may seem or how unsolvable the problem is, a little love, a big idea and a lot of perseverance will make the world better and solve mammoth problems.