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You, among the universal

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Quotations enthrall me. The pithiness of the statements. The motivational, instructive, and validating natures of the strings of words. The sense that the somebody quoted is somehow larger than life, made infinite by their sustaining message that was gloriously earned the hard way. There is a timelessness to this stated wisdom, and we are reminded that our human experience isn’t quite so different from what others before us saw, learned, and shared in the course of their journeys around the sun. 

What endlessly fascinates me is how quotes are, in precisely the same moment, universal (in that they evoke a sense of shared resonance for myriad people across time and space) and unique (they spark something entirely different and specific to each person based on their life experiences and circumstances). Much like a river, I’d wager that no one experiences a quote in exactly the same way.

To test out my theory, I’ll share a couple of quotes about leadership below from which I have drawn inspiration and insight, and you let me know in the comments how you experienced the quote and the particulars of how it resembles your life. Here goes!

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1. “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Teresa

I studied abroad and away in college—in Cuernavaca, Mexico, Oakland, CA, and Namibia and South Africa— and was on track through a Fellowship with the Institute for International Public Policy (IIPP) to work in an international or foreign service career. I felt that it would be a way for me to connect with my family’s refugee and immigrant background, work on critical global issues, and possibly satisfy my wanderlust. My classmates in the Maryland Leadership Institute assigned me the superlative, “Most likely to negotiate a peace treaty” at our graduation, and I was excited to work to advance health as a human right.

I knew I wanted to spend a little bit of time at home in the Twin Cities before setting off so I could save money and be with my family. While I was working to advocate for Minnesota’s statewide smoke-free law and organizing in the communities where I’d grown up and initially gotten involved with public health promotion, I grew to deeply appreciate the local context once again. And rather than connect to my family’s origins on the other side of the globe, I started coordinating local holiday experiences (in lieu of physical gifts) for my cousins—arranging for everyone to do a team-building low ropes course at YMCA Camp Ihduhapi; play games of trampoline dodgeball and laser tag to stir up competitive spirits; creating a custom family BINGO game complete with prizes, etc.—and started to realize that the community I had been hoping to build a half a world away was, in fact, already here in front of me.

Mother Teresa’s quote reminds me to start where I am with what I have, and to know that the work of creating world peace takes place on a very personal as well as global scale.

footsteps2.jpg2. “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought.” – Matsuo Bashō

I’ve been proud to serve on the boards of organizations committed to improving civic and community well-being in our fair state (including Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, Citizens League, Minnesota Humanities Center, League of Women Voters Minnesota, and Give MN). Each of these organizations approaches this work differently based on the organization’s mission and vision and the people involved (whether it be the organization’s founders or current staff, board members, and/or stewards). Civic engagement in the state of Minnesota is robust on many measures, and even still, I have and continue to feel that it is important to explore a different way of engaging people in relationships, conversations, and trust-building–and that path has manifested itself in the form of Minnesota Rising.

By default, as Minnesota Rising’s founder, the way the statewide network of emerging leaders operates has reflected a great deal of who I am and how I lead, in concert with other co-leaders’ ideas and ingenuity over time. As a result, we have identified practices that allow us to pursue a different way of encouraging young people to lead and to work collectively to impact Minnesota’s future. These practices include:

  • Leveraging a gig economy approach in engaging people when and for the length of time that suits their interests.
  • Facilitating events that, largely, allow participants to shape the agenda so they can discuss what is most urgent and relevant for them.
  • Knowing that the answer is to keep asking the questions and that Minnesota Rising can help to hold the space for the rising generation to do so.

It also has meant creating initiatives, “by and for,” to engage people of color and Native Americans (LOCUS) and emerging leaders outside of the Twin Cities Metro (Greater Minnesota Rising) recognizing that unless we specifically name and host relevant conversations with non-dominant communities when we say “everyone,” the resulting actions and outcomes can be less inclusive than the word portends. 

Basho’s quote reminds me that in order to be visionaries, we cannot be content to merely fill a role or emulate what we have seen others do. Instead, we must doggedly pursue the powerful vision or question, recognizing that in exercising identity-driven leadership, our authentic search for the answer would rightfully look quite different from others’ approaches.

Your turn! Share in the comments what these quotes have meant or inspired in you.


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