Gillian Gonda, program director for engagement at Fetzer Institute, will co-present the Upswell workshop, “The Changing Landscape of Religion, Spirituality, and Identity in America,” which will offer preliminary findings from Fetzer’s Study of Spirituality in America. The insights might cause you to re-think the connection between your spiritual values and those of the people you serve, how that impacts your work – and maybe make you a better changemaker. We caught up to learn more on that, and about Gillian.
Q: If you could instantly become an expert on something, what would it be?
GG: I would love to be an expert on – scientific and otherwise – understanding the names of our biological environment – plants, fungi, and all the varieties of things that make up our natural world. I’d want to be an expert on that because they say you love what you name, and I do love everything around me, but I would love to love it even more in its individuality.
Q: What one change can we make right now in the U.S. that would have the greatest impact on helping people thrive?
GG: For me, it is really understanding how to implement self-care and reflective practices that tap into our deepest selves. We know that everyone has this ability and it only takes a little re-framing, education, and practice to implement this at home, at school, at work – and when that happens you might see the conversations about all the seemingly intractable problems take on a different light. When we integrate who we are as people – our inner compass, morals, values – with each other and the world, anything is possible.
Q: What are you an expert on, and is it because of training, lived experience, or both?
GG: Oh, both, definitely. I feel like I really understand the intersection of media and storytelling that has a mission or restorative narrative around it. I understand impact-oriented media, and that comes from working in film and television and being around creative storytellers my entire career. But it also comes from the lived experience of seeing the evolution of a changemaker in understanding the impact the story they are telling may have in a community because they are evolving along with the community. So living out those reflections with producers and storytellers helps me be better at my own role and evolve my understanding. Real people and real issues change and learn and grow and when we constantly live in that reflection, it helps us understand the process of story and the impact it can make.
Q: Who had the biggest impact on the person you have become?
GG: I’m going to say my eight-year-old daughter. I have three children, but I lost my husband when she was five, and I have learned so much from my littlest daughter and how she responded. Her innate spirituality reminded me of why we’re here on this earth and how to live with each other, and her insistence on being present and on one hand – needing love from her mother – and on the other hand, sharing love with the world. Seeing the world through her eyes, talking about it, too – when we were at a pretty critical time just trying to get through our grieving – really helped me become who I am right now.
Q: If you could change one thing about the sector right now, what would it be?
GG: I think it would be viewing the work through a lens of abundance, versus scarcity of resources and opportunity. There are a lot of conversations dominated by how much money, who has access to opportunities, and so many other real challenges. The challenges that are being addressed are real and difficult. I’m not trying to say that everything is rosy. But the solutions exist within us, and I think recognizing that there are so many gifts in and around us, and viewing the work through a lens of gratitude and abundance, how we work with the resources we have could just shift our thinking and expand possibilities.
The Changing Landscape of Religion, Spirituality, and Identity in America is happening Friday, November 15 from 11am – 12pm.