A young man I’ll call Carl who had just completed a listening seminar I’d conducted for the Gates Scholars at Cambridge University, came up to me after most of the other participants had left and said, “I just want you to know that last year, when I attended the workshop that you did here, it changed my life. This workshop has saved my life.” I was surprised and shocked. I thanked him for letting me know. He then turned away and left.
Though nothing more was said, I had a sense that I knew exactly what he meant. I have had a few of those moments in my life. When one of my college professors, Mr. Stouffer, encouraged me to apply for a graduate scholarship, which I was lucky enough to receive. When another college professor, Mrs. Johnson, said to our class about me “Class, I think you are looking at a United States Senator in the making”. When Father Leo Booth, while delivering a talk to a thousand people, wandered down the aisle of the auditorium, stopping when he got to me, looking me straight in the eye, putting his hand on my shoulder and said as if I was the only one in the room, “You understand that religion and spirituality are not the same thing, don’t you?” When a Lakota man came up to me after one of my presentations, took my hand and said, “We believe that every time and everywhere a person feels connected, to anyone or anything they are in a spiritual moment.”
Every one of those moments were life-changing. Gave and saved my life in one way or another. I intuitively knew that Carl was telling me that he had experienced one of those moments. That’s all he needed to say. I know sometimes there are no words to describe those experiences. The focus of the workshop had been on listening. Carl had practiced listening and had been listened to in deep and meaningful new ways. A woman I have never met but quoted often, Mary Lou Casey, once said that what people need most is a good listening to. I believe that. I try to practice that. In other words, we are not broken, so we don’t need fixed and we are not sick, so we don’t need to recover. We are human beings having a human experience.
If you have been following my musings as of late, you know that I have been challenged on how to be more of a solution for the difficult times I believe our country and world are experiencing. Last month’s blog was a bit of an assessment of those things I have done over the last year or so to try to make a difference. Conducting different kinds of listening workshops is one of them (most are free, costs underwritten by the Reid Family Foundation). I’ve struggled wondering what effect my doing so little compared to what needed to be done, could possibly have. This young man, a future leader of his country, reminded me that those people (a few mentioned above) who had touched me had no way of knowing the effect of what they had done. So, if he had decided to choose life because of some experience I was able to provide, maybe that is good enough. But I was to receive more.
Following the workshop, I was invited to be a part of a small audience to hear a presentation by a representative of the Gates Foundation. The title of the presentation was “What If Gender Equality Could Change the Face of Poverty.” As I sat waiting for the presentation I will admit to some skepticism as to what I was about to hear. What turned out to be the purpose of the gathering was the unveiling of a new Gates Foundation world-wide initiative. During that presentation I heard of the multiple scientific research studies from across the globe. Studies that show evidence that as gender equality moves towards reality, the levels of poverty in study after study, diminished in significant ways. Pulling all that data together and creating a strategy to support and enhance those programs is the initiative the Gates Foundation will be pursuing. I found the presentation to be surprisingly inspiring and hopeful. It took me out of my micro-world into a space that gave me hope for my and my grandchildren’s world. These are people doing things, real things, to make a difference.
When the speaker was asked about the current climate in America - the apparent hostility for such concepts of gender equality at the highest levels; a climate that is given credit for the spawning of the recent mobilization in America and across the world, of the “Me Too, “Times Up”, “Black Lives Matter”, and “No More” movements, the speaker reminded the audience of Melinda Gates’ comment that “just because it is hard, doesn’t mean we aren’t going to make it happen.”
After the presentation there was a reception. The speaker was told by one of my workshop’s students of an exercise that they had done in my workshop. The speaker commented something to the effect of “I love that idea, I want that to become a part of our process”.
So maybe, sometimes, even little people like you and me, can make a difference to the big picture that we can’t imagine being able to do. So, keep plugging away. Brighten the little corner where you are. One can never tell where that light will light. Being the Mr. Stouffer, the Mrs. Johnson, the Leo Booth for someone who needs one. Saving someone’s life perhaps.
I like this quote from William James. “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”