“When our daughter was born in 1969, the view of Earth from space was shown on TV. Having our first child arrive at the same time we saw our beautiful planet from space, that small blue and green dot supporting incredible Life, changed everything. It expanded my thinking even more, moving far beyond one faith, one nationality, or one tribe to knowing for certain that ALL IS ONE.”
I can imagine the expression on Libby’s face when she must have penned these few lines while reflecting on my prompts. Having spent a beautiful few days in Libby and Len’s home in San Mateo, California in the Spring of 2019, I have personally known and witnessed Libby in her powerful and all-embracing motherly role in an ever-expanding community that has been touched by her and Len’s compassion. The way she narrates how she has grown in faith over the years is deeply authentic, honest and laced with humility that opens up the heart of the listener right from the very beginning. Story-telling is an art this couple had mastered over the years like no other. And as they say that the story is an entry point to a relationship, needless to mention that Libby and Len are the best relationship builders and story-tellers I have come across till date. Libby’s striking narration, bringing in the relationship between two of the most important events in her personal life and in the history of the world, brings out her incredible capacity to view the inter-connectedness of everything. As she mentions in addition, “A mantra in our home was ONE EARTH ONE HUMANITY ONE SPIRIT. We even had this as a bumper sticker on our cars!” This incredible power couple lived the language and essence of oneness as parents, community builders and activists. This story is of an ongoing dialogue with Libby Traubman, my mentor and one of the most incredible human beings who continue to shape me. This story is about inspiration, support and connection, a rare combination which provides a safe space for growth. Having experienced the same first hand, let me now take you on a journey to experience inspired leadership through the story of Libby Traubman in her very own voice.
In an email conversation with Libby which forms the fulcrum of this narrative besides my previous dialogues with her, I decided to try and glean out the essence of my Wonder Woman’s inspiring presence. I asked her first about the source of her power and strength, the foundations to her striking personality. Libby, in her deeply authentic response while reflecting on her growth process mentioned, “Looking back at my teens and even college years, I can’t say I moved forward or towards greater consciousness about myself and Life in general at a very fast pace. Fortunately, I had experiences and mentors that seemed to point me in the right direction like getting a degree in Social Work.” Her honest acknowledgement about the contribution of her mentors reflect how important mentorship is to her as an essential element of life that she believes to have played a vital role in shaping her power and strength through her evolving personality. After all, in her very own words, “Maturing, changing and growing in confidence has been a life-long journey” and mentors have provided to her the guiding milestones. Over the years, Libby seems further to have embodied her belief in mentorship as a powerful gift to bless others with and evolved herself to become a celebrated mentor to many like myself.
Continuing to self-critically share the story of her emergence, Libby further states, “Growing up I held a very narrow view of life. I was conservative and limited in my world view meaning I was prejudiced against the “other”, those outside of my limited circle of relationships. Expanding my frame of reference has enabled me to live a more inclusive and meaningful life. For me, it means that everyone and everything has its place and purpose, no exceptions. This influences everyday choices that I make about how I live and how to relate to the “other”. Each day I learn something new about cause and effect, good choice or less good choice.” As I listened to her voice inside my head while reading her responses to my questions, I could scarcely believe that her story could possibly be as relatable as it was turning out to be. In all her grace and humility, her story wove in many a strand of common human experience of emerging self-awareness with the consciousness to deliberately decide to embody the wisdom in lived experience. If I am to be honest, her narrative had already started giving me the hope that maybe I could be something like a shadow or reflection of her over the years as I age. To me, THAT implies in Libby’s words, “life pointing me in the right direction.”
How have you grown in faith? Has your faith tradition enabled/facilitated your growth or limited the same? If there have been instances of limitations, how have you overcome them?
The second question in my list of prompts was a deeply personal one. Libby’s response was strikingly comprehensive yet encompassed practically the entire timeline of her incredible life in the most perfect words. I suppose it is deep wisdom and a powerful sense of self-awareness that could have led to such a complete response.
“From a very young age, I was drawn to beauty: to special holiday music and ceremony. However, I was never inspired by the sermons and lectures about sin and who is worthy of God’s love and who is not. I remember writing a paper in college expressing a belief that it isn’t going to church that makes a good person, it is how one lives life. I knew lots of people who “sinned”, asked for forgiveness, and “sinned” again!! My faith has expanded well beyond my Presbyterian upbringing to embracing the good that all religions have in common. It is about loving your neighbor and loving your enemy, the greater challenge.
My husband was Jewish. In our home we celebrated what it means to be a good person, to have values that affirm Life, to believe in idealism. We introduced these concepts to our children from a young age and introduced them to other faiths and traditions. We often had visitors from other countries and faiths as guests in our home opening us to new ways of thinking and living. A mantra in our home was ONE EARTH ONE HUMANITY ONE SPIRIT.”
Our conversation soon moved on to the different roles that women play in their lifetime. I inquired about the experience of playing these multiple roles and whether or not they ever seemed to be conflicting in her experiences. Libby responded as I can imagine with a faint knowing smile that is reassuring to say the least, specially for someone like me, who is at present exploring the nuances of a few of these roles while anticipating how others would possibly turn out for me.
“At 79, I have experienced being a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, grandmother, friend, neighbor, social worker and now an elder. Different roles have come along at different times allowing me to learn from each one, discovering what works and what doesn't. I could write pages about each "role" and have many memories both good and bad. For example, I was the sister of two brothers, one older and one younger! Along the way other women, beginning with my mother, have been models for me about what it means to be a good nurturing mother or loving wife. Each experience moved me along the path of Life and in looking back I agree with something Len always said, "It is all one Life!" Each experience, adventure, and challenge helped me discover more about myself and what it means to be human. Living life as female, I have learned to appreciate the feminine qualities that have come with that gender. Both men and women are capable of demonstrating the masculine and feminine principles within us, which is ideal. Too much of one without the other can cause unhappiness and even difficulties. However, with a balance of those basic principles, a combination of strength and nurturing, one can experience a more productive and meaningful life. Needless to say, this is just brushing this important subject, but I have worked to bring balance of what it means to be human, incorporating the masculine and feminine principles, into my everyday activities, strong and capable while being sensitive and nurturing. I'm still practicing and still learning!”
Libby made it all sound really easy. However, what struck me as most interesting about her take on the different roles is how she seamlessly integrated her experience of playing different roles into the self-aware narrative of the play of masculine and feminine qualities in her own self. She had this beautiful wisdom of understanding the roots of human behavior and personality traits which was at once sophisticated knowledge and yet simple in the way it applies to her life story. It sure got me musing over which qualities dominate my personality and impact the roles I play every day as a woman. Libby spoke about the balance between the masculine and the feminine, Shiva and Shakti according to my tradition. I wondered as I read her narrative if she knew how deeply her lived wisdom resonated with the lived wisdom of the saints and sages from my tradition, half way across the world in India.
I have always believed that the roles women play to contribute to the need for nurture of life and life processes is the balancing move to sustain progress. In enabling life processes to flourish, the feminine qualities create the enabling safe space for birth, growth and sustenance. Libby, with her deep sense of commitment towards “ONE LIFE”, seems to me to have emerged as no less than an embodiment of the ideal nurturer of that safe space in her family’s lives and over the years, also served as a guide to the rule and essence of nurture for her community in creative ways. Her life appears to me as a template of beautifully connected possibilities, a tapestry of the shades and experiences of an ever-expanding love for one and all. Can we all perhaps find our own purpose in committing to the many creative ways in which we embody the nurturer in our daily lives?
My reflections led me to the next part of Libby’s narrative. As much as she had inspired me with her story, I wondered if she had similar inspiring stories shaping her value system. The next question sought to probe deeper thus.
How do you connect with other women? Give me an instance of how other women have inspired you to evolve further.
“I have many women friends; some I have known since childhood. As an elder, I have also lost a lot of friends these past years so I try to appreciate those remaining in my Life. I have been in a "book club" with the same seven women for about 40 years meeting every other Friday to talk about life and sometimes the book! We support each other in times of illness or personal challenges. I have also sustained a friendship with a group of women from high school meaning more than 50 years. Although spread out across the country, we gather every several years to revisit the good old days. In the time between, we keep a loose connection. These relationships add a certain meaning to my Life as they provide wonderful memories, experiences, and inspiration from different periods.
In the early 70s, as a young mother, I was part of a movement Woman to Woman, Building the Earth for the Children's Sake or Build the Earth for short. For decades we women worked together on issues such as TV violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and even back then we focused on leaving a light footprint on our beautiful Planet. We led courses, seminars, and held many community events. It was a full-time activity. In all of these relationships that occurred during different times of my life, the underlying theme was women supporting women, women appreciating what it means to be a woman no matter what age and role. The intention was to care and support each other so that we could rise to our highest potential, become our very best self. As teens, we weren't always aware of this as life was more about having fun and being liked. But having those close friendships is what enabled us then, and still is so important now, helping me live a more meaningful, joyful, and productive life.”
At this point of Libby’s narrative I was moved to ask if Libby could define her personal brand of leadership for me. Clearly, she had been a leader all along, powerfully weaving her role in her personal life to reflect her social consciousness when she joined hands with other women to give the purpose of motherhood a fresh dimension through the Woman to Woman movement.
What kind of a leader are you? (give me your definition)
“I think of myself more as a facilitator, one who makes the meeting, gathering, event go smoothly. Facile, to make easy. I work better as a team player willing to facilitate the event so that everyone is included and respected. I use the tool of learning to listen and then listening to learn as a theme. One of our weaknesses in our society is the inability to hear the other, to be inclusive, to be open to new ways of thinking and being. Leadership is important, but again, I believe since we are all in "this" together, then all points of view and what has meaning to each person is a key to reaching solutions that include the most people, hopefully all people. I am not afraid to help make a final decision or to suggest a new idea, but still like to work more with the idea of "all hands on deck" as everyone has something to add. As a facilitator, I like to make sure that all voices are heard.”