Here's an example I deal with every year. A student wants to write a paper about how much he or she wants to help the homeless. A worthy goal, if insanely complex, I suppose. So I often ask the student, "So you care about helping homeless people, do you?" They enthusiastically answer yes. I then reply, "Have you invited a homeless person to live in your home with you?" They always answer with a befuddled no. I then ask, "Have you emptied your bank account and handed that check to a homeless person?" Now, a more frustrated no. I finish with, "Are you willing to drop out of this comfortable college and be that homeless man's personal job hunter, clothier, and food provider so he can get on his feet?" No. That usually leads me to ask, "So how much do you actually care about homeless people if you haven't attempted to give them any of the life-altering things they need most?" The student usually huffs away, considering a topic change, and the point has been made.
Many people today only demonstrate their activism to look like a good person to others and/or to mollify their own guilt regarding their participation in the problem. The article provides several interesting conclusions from an extensive research study that held constant across political ideology and personal background. We all want to be viewed as moral, especially among our particular in-groups. And anything that threatens that status increases the level of anger exhibited for certain topics, particularly social ones.
Next time a student in your class poses as a warrior for a cause, ask him if he really believes what he is saying, if he has actually sacrificed something in his own life for his stance, and if he would change his entire life to fix the problem. When he looks at you with glazed eyes, tell him to check out this psychology article and pay close attention to who he's actually trying to make feel better, the homeless guy or himself.