On Being with Krista Tippett

America Ferrera and John Paul Lederach

The Ingredients of Social Courage

Last Updated

October 24, 2019

Original Air Date

June 7, 2018

“Our discomfort and our grappling is not a sign of failure,” America Ferrera says, “it’s a sign that we’re living at the edge of our imaginations.” She is a culture-shifting actor and artist. John Paul Lederach is one of our greatest living architects of social transformation. From the inaugural On Being Gathering, a revelatory, joyous exploration of the ingredients of social courage and how change really happens in generational time.

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Image of America Ferrera

America Ferrera is an Emmy Award-winning actor and producer. She’s known for the movies Real Women Have Curves and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and for the TV series Ugly Betty. She also stars in and co-produces the current NBC series Superstore. She’s the co-founder of Harness, a grassroots organization for social healing.

Image of John Paul Lederach

John Paul Lederach is a senior fellow at Humanity United and professor emeritus of international peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame. He is also the co-founder and first director of the Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. In 2019 he won the Niwano Peace Foundation Peace Prize.


Krista Tippett, host: America Ferrera is a culture-shifting artist. From Real Women Have Curves, Ugly Betty, and Superstore to her social healing initiative, Harness. And John Paul Lederach is one of our greatest living architects of social transformation from Nepal to Northern Ireland to Colombia. We brought these two together at the 2018 On Being Gathering. What follows is a revelatory, joyous exploration of the ingredients of social courage, and how change really happens, in generational time.

[music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoë Keating]

John Paul Lederach: Where did we nourish and foster the creative imagination that permits to you bring into the world something that does not now exist? That’s the real challenge of a lot of the work of conflict, is that you’re trying to bring something that does not now exist. That’s the creative act.

America Ferrera: Sometimes, all we have to do is shift our attention and shift the light and allow for these people with powerful, strong voices and stories and solutions to speak for themselves. And I’ve found so much power in shifting that light.

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being.


Ms. Tippett: From John Paul, I’ve recently picked up this phrase, “social courage.” I really love that phrase. It’s what I want to have and I want us to share with each other. And then we have America Ferrera, who is on some of our very present American frontlines of danger and reckoning — this call to social courage. Do we claim this or not?

And another phrase I’ve been using lately is “social artistry,” “social arts.” And I feel like you, also, are a bearer of that, a teacher of that. Just by virtue of being yourself you end up, in yourself, grappling with a lot of the pain and fear and divisions and challenges that mark this American moment around women, immigration, race, socioeconomic well-being. One thing you’ve said about yourself: “I am the daughter of two immigrants who worked several jobs to keep food on the table and the lights on. And by the way, we still found joy in life. We still loved people and had relationships and breakups.” Something John Paul has said about himself, “I have traveled most of the globe on the backs of people whose lives are held together by the wars they fight.” So what we have here is an artistic conflict-transformer and a conflict-transforming artist.


Mr. Lederach: Brilliant. [laughs]

Ms. Tippett: America, I wonder how you would start to talk about the religious and spiritual background of your life, of your childhood, whatever those words mean for you.

Ms. Ferrera: I love that so much!


I really have waited so long and, last night, thought, “Oh, God, I don’t have an answer” — that’s not true. I have an answer. I was thinking about it all weekend and last night, and I feel like the simple, shortest explanation of the spiritual background of my childhood is this groping in the dark.

My parents are immigrants from Honduras. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. My mother was very skeptical of religion and the Catholic church, and she’d left a country she felt was hopeless, when she left. And so I was never taught how to pray, and I was never taught what God was. And yet, I remember making up my own form of praying by the time I was six years old. I would lie in bed and just ask God to protect my mother, my siblings; that my mother would come home safe from work on the nights she worked one of her three jobs, very late. And so there was, so early on, a seeking, and no one gave me a road map. No one taught me how to talk to God or what God was, but so early on, I was seeking, and seeking in the dark. And I think it’s served me really well, because this moment has felt like darkness for years now — as a woman, as a person of color, as a patriot, as someone who loves this country. It’s felt like darkness. And my now-dear friend, Valerie Kaur, gave this beautiful speech on New Year’s Eve, after the election in 2016. And she said something like: What if this is not the darkness of the tomb but the darkness of the womb, and America is a country waiting to be birthed, and we are being called to breathe and to push? And it changed the whole context of the darkness I was feeling, and I thought, I can do this. I know how to do this. I know how to grope in the dark without a road map. And so that’s the element that is with me right now, in this time.

Mr. Lederach: Wow.


Ms. Tippett: So John Paul, how would you — I wonder — I know about your Mennonite background and how that flowed into what you became. But in this moment, is there something in the spiritual background of your life — also, perhaps, what has emerged through your vocation — that is especially present to you?

Mr. Lederach: Well, I suppose with time and exposure to a lot of these situations that have that deep level of darkness, and finding ways to seek the light, you open up — at least, I’ve found that to be true, for me — you opened up to any of the sources that began to shed light, whether it’s from the daily conversation all the way up to — I sometimes consider myself a Mennonite who writes haikus and studies contemplative Buddhism, who loves Sufism and listens carefully for the divine in the everyday, because it’s miraculous.

So sometimes, the formal structures and shapes that I grew up with — I want to always take a sense of gratitude and deep appreciation for having had a caring, loving community that made community serious. And I also don’t want to feel bound by boundaries that, sometimes, our communities can create. I’m interested in boundary-less identity. And so how do you find that meaningful “we” that is expansive? And that’s sometimes understood and sometimes not well understood by those who find more meaning in keeping the gates a bit more closed. So it’s an ongoing love affair with my own community and beyond.

Ms. Tippett: And love affairs do have turbulence.

Mr. Lederach: Yeah, they do. [laughs]

Ms. Tippett: You’ve spent so much of your career in many countries, and this moment of tumult is actually global. There’s a sense in which what’s happening here is our manifestation. I just wonder if you have been surprised at what’s happened in this country, or how you see this, in the context of everything you’ve seen, in terms of social tumult across the years.

Mr. Lederach: Well, there’s a part of — “surprise” would be that it’s totally unexpected. And I think it took us a long time to get from the writing of a Constitution to the Civil War; it’s taking a long time to come to the full understanding of how deep that actually was and how it’s left remnants. One of my big — most meaningful mentors that I had was Elise Boulding, who was one of the pioneer women of the peace studies field. Kenneth and Elise were a Quaker couple. And Elise always — she had this phrase about the 200-year present, and I think it might be useful for us to think about the current moment in reference to how she would frame the 200-year present. We students would be walked through this very simple exercise. You can do it right now, in the next two minutes. So here it comes.

If you just calculate, for a minute — so when she said “present,” she meant, like, past, present, future. And she’s saying, you live in a 200-year present. So if you go back to when you — at your youngest age that you can remember, who the oldest person was that held you, and then just calculate back to their birthdate, roughly. Mine would carry from Great-Grandma Miller, would go back into the 1850s — actually, into the period close to the Civil War. And then you do the second part of the process, which is, you think about the youngest member of your extended family — minus two months. And then imagine a robust life — to what decade might she or he live? And then she would always say to us, once we’ve done all this kind of work, she would look at us and say: You were held and touched, and you will touch the lives, of people that cover a 200-year present.

And I think that’s where we lose sight that there is a deep process of change that we are about, and it is impatient — as one of my friends, and one of the famous writers in Nicaragua, said: “It’s impatient patience.” We have a ways to go, don’t we? We have a journey to take.

Ms. Tippett: So America, you have a face and a voice in this moment. I’m curious about the evolution of your activism and the inner life of your activism, because — just, from the outside, there you were, a very prominent voice in the Women’s March, a raised voice. I also experience you to really be a questioning voice, to be a listening voice, as well, and asking about the world you want and the shoulders you stand on. And I’m just curious if you’d share a little bit with us about what you’ve been learning.

Ms. Ferrera: Yeah, that’s a really, really big part of my journey, is this grappling with boundary-less identity. And I think a really, really big part of what has shaped me, or my understanding of myself, is the cutting-off of my knowledge to my identity. When my parents left Honduras, they left so much behind, and they didn’t want to bring it with them. And I had always been taught to worship the U.S. soil that I grew up on — that I was so blessed, and I was so lucky to be born and to be raised on this land. And I really internalized that, and I was the most earnest American named America there was.


And it really wasn’t until very recently, probably about eight years ago, that I traveled to Honduras for the first time in my life, so stepped foot on the land that I knew I had some connection to but really was only in my imagination. And I was so taken by the unexpected feeling of tragedy, of the tragedy of immigration. I’d only been told to be grateful and to be glad and to be excited that I didn’t grow up in a war-torn, corrupt country.

And so that was a moment where I realized that I had never been full in my identity, because I had never been given the opportunity to mourn what had been lost to me. And how that relates to my activism is that I was so confused and frustrated by my activism for so long, because I just wanted to be an actress. [laughs] And I — again, going back to when you’re young, I thought, “I’m gonna be an actress, and I’m gonna be a human rights lawyer.” And that made sense to me when I was in first grade …


… and there was nothing at odds with that. And when I got into college, I had this quarter-life crisis, where I thought, “Oh, no, I’ve made the wrong choices. There’s so much suffering in the world. There’s so much to fix. And I’m gonna go be an actor? How does that make any sense?” And I had convinced myself that the only right thing to do was — to make up for my 18 wasted years of life, was to quit acting and go do something that mattered.

And I had a professor of peace and conflict studies, whose office hours I walked into, and just started blubbering and crying at Professor Dave Andrus’s desk, saying, “I have to give up my career.” And I didn’t even know he knew I was an actress. And he stopped and said to me that he had a young Latina female mentee who he’d been mentoring for three years, and one day, she said to him, “Do you really want to know what my life is like?” And he said, yes. And she said, “Then come watch this movie with me. It’s called Real Women Have Curves,” which was the first film I ever starred in as a 17-year-old. And the character had a dream of going to college, and her parents did not support that dream. She had to work in the factory to help her parents make ends meet. And he watched this movie with her and her friends, and they said to him, they’d never seen themselves reflected in the world around them. They’d never seen the culture acknowledge their existence and their struggles. And anyway, he was able to speak to her parents, specifically, through this movie, about supporting her wish to go to college. And I could not have imagined or scripted that I would be alive in a moment where there is this ripple in our space and time, where artists and art and culture are so being called to step up and speak from an activist heart. And I feel like I was born for this moment.


Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, with America Ferrera and John Paul Lederach.

Ms. Tippett: John Paul, one of the things you learned as a professional peacebuilder — I think you would say that just a huge catharsis and deepening in your art and practice of peacebuilding was understanding the arts. Even when we use that language, it sounds like something in a box and that we also professionalize that. But what I got from you was, you, in being proximate to that kind of conflict and suffering, understood that it’s so often true that our deepest pain and the deepest things we have to reckon with and resolve lie in a place that words and analysis don’t touch — and that all the arts and just our capacity to sing is as essential as any tool or any conversation.

Mr. Lederach: Absolutely. I have this running question I’ve been struggling with. I used to write a lot of poetry when I was younger; and then, when I came into my formal Ph.D. studies, I had a 15-year hiatus. And I always wondered, what was it about becoming professional that took the poetry out of me? And coming back to it, what I discovered, among other things, is that a lot of what you have a capacity to be trained to do, which are very important things, but it’s based, quite often, on analysis. And of course, the notion of analysis is that we know by breaking things apart in some form or fashion. And analysis, in and of itself, doesn’t have the heart to put things back together. So where do we find the capacity to think in ways that hold something that’s a wider whole but is not entirely visible, because it’s gotten so fragmented? And the further you go down one avenue, it just doesn’t have that; so you have to find ways to bridge, and for me, it was definitely the arts.

A tool can give you something concrete that you can imagine using, but a tool is not gonna give you persistence to know what to do when you’re in a dense forest. It’s not gonna tell you which path to take. It’s not gonna give you a sense of how you’re gonna come through a blustering storm. It’s not gonna give you the mettle that when everything feels like it’s been destroyed around you, you can’t just pull out a tool. You have to have some way that it connects much more holistically.

And then, what you find, of course, is that — and this was, for me, the part that was so powerful — is that the people who were the most inspirational were the ones who were inventing things that none of the professional world had thought about, because they were — like the campesinos in Medio Magdalena: out of the blue, no formal training at all, it hit decades of one armed group after another. And the principles of their organization start with quota: “If you want to join, you agree that you will die before you kill.” Principle one: “We will seek to understand those who do not understand us.”

And I’m thinking, “These people are artists.” Literally, they started the very first peace zone in all of Colombia that then spread to other parts of the world; the notion that a local community can simply say, “No more guns here.” So when I look back, one of the big questions I had was: Where did we nourish and foster the creative imagination that permits you to bring into the world something that does not now exist?

That’s the real challenge of a lot of the work of conflict, is that you’re trying to bring something that does not now exist. That’s the creative act. And so I think it goes back to holding these worlds together.

Ms. Tippett: Something you said that just struck me as, again, simple and so important: “Remember that the person in front of you is a human, first, and an opinion, second. To be human is to story. So remember that before you is a person trying to understand their story, one of billions that make up our family.”

And then, Mariah — sorry, we have a Mariah in our family. America, [laughs] you’re part of what you call this “small, silent revolution in pointing the camera at the common person who is not saving the world, or the world’s best FBI agent, but who is just getting by” and doing this —  “finding the humor and the love and the stakes and the victories and the tragedy in everyday life.”

Ms. Ferrera: I so appreciated something that was said, talking about this notion of giving voice to the voiceless and how that’s, to me, very flawed — that they’ve always been talking. No one’s been listening. Being raised by a single mother who, for the majority of my life, was the manager to a department of women who cleaned hotel rooms, I was surrounded by women who other people would think of as voiceless, as powerless, as disenfranchised. And they’re not. They’re stronger, more powerful, more solution-oriented, more solution-driven, more resilient than anyone else I’ve ever known.

And going into people’s communities, into their lives, and seeing the ways in which they resist and the ways in which they find joy, is so heartening and humbling — because many of us, I think, we sit in our positions of privilege, feeling guilty for our privilege, and we live in this idea that we have something that other people might not have access to, but we don’t often think about the things that we don’t have access to that people that we would consider less privileged than ourselves somehow manage to keep at their fingertips at all times.

And I think so often about the Dreamers and — the children, essentially, in this country, who led themselves. They led their own movement. They realized that their salvation was in them stepping into their leadership and doing the most terrifying thing, which was to be visible in a world that demanded them to remain invisible. And as I’ve traveled the world and had firsthand experiences with these communities that are fighting for their own daily survival and their daily dignity and their daily joy, I realized that that’s what we need.

And so, for me, as somebody who has managed to procure a platform, it’s scary to use that platform, because you feel like “I have to have all the answers,” or “How could I possibly speak if I don’t have the Ph.D. in conflict resolution or diplomacy?” But sometimes, all we have to do is shift our attention and shift the light and allow for these people with powerful, strong voices and stories and solutions to speak for themselves. And I’ve found so much power in shifting that light.


[music: “Ezra Was Right” by Grandbrothers]

Ms. Tippett: After a short break, more with America Ferrera and John Paul Lederach. And you can find this show again at onbeing.org in two Starting Points called “Living Together in Disagreement” and “Social Healing.” Starting points are curated entry points to On Being’s archive oriented towards a subject of interest or the kind of day you’re having. Some of our popular starting points are “For the Exhausted and Overwhelmed,” “Poetry for Tumultuous Times,” and “Joy is a Human Birthright.” Find these and an abundance of more at onbeing.org.

I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, changemaking at the edge of our imaginations, with artistic conflict transformer John Paul Lederach and conflict-transforming artist America Ferrera. We spoke at the 2018 On Being Gathering at the 1440 Multiversity in Scotts Valley, California.

Ms. Tippett: America, you’re working in these spheres right now, these other uncoverings, the breaking of silences that have kept us apart. And I also feel like — the women’s movement, 50 years ago. America, you have this way of talking about it, these things we’ve learned — subtle ways to get what we want without getting angry or seeming angry; all these years, we know how to walk into a room and make everyone feel comfortable with their intelligence, not threatened by it; how to bring up great ideas that we help them think are theirs.


You said, “We’re trained for that from day one.” And —

Ms. Ferrera: I gave away all my secrets.

Ms. Tippett: [laughs] You gave away your secrets. But so how do we let anger have its righteousness and, also, its place in healing? You have to get angry before you can move past it. How do we hold that? And I just wonder how each of you — what is that creative tension?

Mr. Lederach: This was what I was having a conversation, actually, with Youla a couple days ago, who spoke and blessed me, because she was asking, how can I do lovingkindness, and how can I do anger? And how can I hold them together? Because if I err too far on one side, trouble emerges. And it’s like — it’s an old country-western song that said, “For every mile of road, there’s two miles of ditches.”

For me, I never understood this until, in the 1980s, a decade of work in Central America, and very, very close to people that I cared a lot about, whose families were harmed. And my own family, we experienced a lot of things that you wouldn’t imagine happening. And one of the things that I discovered is that if I went back and reread the Psalms, for example, there’s a lot of anger.

Ms. Tippett: There’s a lot of rage — murderous rage.

Mr. Lederach: Rage, yeah — an appeal to do stuff that seems to — that it comes, and we have to find when it’s unhealthy, because there are times where lovingkindness can be unhealthy, and there’s times when anger can be unhealthy. But without them, we’re not gonna get anywhere, because it’s this — I think the passion or the thirst for change, necessarily, has to say — the haiku notion that the world must be revealed for what it is. And what it is, is, it’s created a lot of harm. So how do you unpeel the cataracts that are blocking the ability to simply see it? And sometimes, it comes up in ways that it’s gonna just burst.

And then, at the same time, I am deeply convinced that change must be relationship-centered. We don’t create change purely on the basis of the content of a policy. We don’t create change purely on the basis of winning an argument or, even, winning a particular vote at a given time. Change has something to do with who we’re going to choose to be together, as the human family. And until we understand this — this is when I was working with that notion of the moral imagination — the imagination that you’re in a web of relationship that includes your enemy, because your grandchildren are gonna be mutually affected. So how to hold these two — I think it’s actually the art of everything.

Social courage — I’ll come back to that, because I think it has a little piece on this, very concretely. Courage is actually living from the heart; so the notion of where the word, “courage,” came from. In highly polarized settings, one of the ways I understand social courage is that it takes courage to reach out to things that are not known, not well understood; that may be threatening to you; that may, in fact, pose a threat to everything you believe. So there’s a certain kind of courage that it takes to reach into that unknown.

But there is also a courage that is required of us — that when we see our own community dehumanizing others, that we have the courage to speak to that dehumanization. So social courage cuts in both ways, and this is sometimes the hard part, is that we just would like it to be one way. But then we’re backing away, aren’t we, from the complexity? We’re not willing to sit with the mess of who we are in a way that finds a way to speak to that clearly.

The psalm that I ended up with that was most helpful for me was Psalm 85: “Truth and mercy have met together. Justice and peace have kissed.” You may be familiar with some of that phraseology — it was actually the psalm that was read over and over and over again to start the village-level negotiations in the east coast of Nicaragua. And when I was sitting in those locations, in bombed-out churches with people who were in the same rooms who had come from different sides of a war where they had lost families and had been shifted out of a country, and they’re sitting there, and the first words they hear are: “Truth and mercy have met together” — it sounds like truth and mercy are people. “Peace and justice have kissed” — it sounds like they’re people. So I began to ask, what if truth showed up here today? What if mercy showed up alongside of truth? And how in the world do you hold truth and mercy together, so it’s not choosing one over the other, but somehow, they’re there? I think that’s the real challenge of learning to live with that tension: not avoiding it.

Ms. Ferrera: This was exactly my question. And it came from something that I’ve been holding and grappling with since the day after the election, was less “How did those people vote for Trump?” It was “How did we — who I believe to be the majority — where did we fail in communicating with one another what our duty in this moment was? What are the conversations and the questions we’re not asking ourselves?” Because, clearly, what aligns us has not been as strong as what aligns what won on that day. Why is it so hard for us to get into the same space and for women of color to feel welcomed in a women’s movement? And we want to go right past all of the anger and the hurt that has been present for generations and put forward this united front that isn’t genuinely and truly united in what aligns us?

Ms. Tippett: I actually — I used to be really disturbed by all the violent psalms, and then I, when I studied theology, got behind that. I really appreciate that — that at the heart of the Bible, this, too, comes before God, and you speak this out loud. And also, when I learned that those are common prayers, and so you’re not always praying just for how you feel that day and that there is always somebody in the world, and too many people in the world, who are righteously full of rage.

Ms. Ferrera: And — I’m so sorry to interrupt, but I also wanted to say — something that’s been so on my heart this entire weekend has been our indigenous brothers and sisters. We so rarely ask our question: Whose land are we standing on?


We think about reckoning with this country and the history and the past of this country, and we so rarely want to begin with the original sin of massacre and genocide of an entire indigenous population. And they’re so rarely evoked and called into these rooms that I think that if we really want to reckon, if we really want truth, we have to start there.


Ms. Tippett: I think what gets hard, then, when we start to put everything in the room that we have to reckon with, is that then, it starts to be overwhelming: How do we begin there? And so it feels to me like we have to reckon with that question too — how do we begin and not just get paralyzed and not carry our guilt as though that is a form of responding?

I wonder, and I’m not sure this is right, but I do want to talk about critical yeast, and I wonder if that’s an image to bring into this, because — I’ve learned this from you, John Paul — seeing how reckoning comes, transformation comes — that what happens before and during and after the critical mass is the critical yeast, which is human beings starting: starting, not knowing how they’re gonna tackle it, but starting. Would you …

Mr. Lederach: Absolutely. So among the many things that I have a tendency to have some bias towards, my particular one says that I’ve just noticed how important it is to have small groups of people who have that quality of relationship so that they can serve in ways that begin to echo that out into larger groups. And you know it’s missing if large numbers rise and dissipate the next morning by noon. And we know that up-and-down of what we hoped was the signs of something big that was coming, and then, it doesn’t quite go. And so the critical yeast was actually, just very simply, that so many places where I was working, there was not large numbers of people that were yet at a place, but there were these unbelievable people who refused to let it be the way it was.

So in my field, we spend a lot of time understanding content. We spend a lot of time understanding process. So we have know-how, and we have know-what. These people were good at know-who. They constantly thought about the web of their relationships. In Central America, for example, the Spanish language has this wonderful phrase that if there’s a problem, your first question is, who do you know that knows? So it’s this notion that you’re a part of a web of relationships.

And that know-who is based on trust. And what conflict destroys, what polarization separates, is that it drains our reservoirs of trust, and it pulls them back into only trusting, in the narrowest sense, people who already are, and believe, very much like you.

So one of the language words that I found really interesting was that if you’re in the middle of some of this, and you’re looking for what to do next, you first think about who do you know that knows somebody? Who do you have trust in that knows somebody that has trust in? And that word was actually: Who is allegada? So allegada would be a word that’s built around the word “allegar” which is a word “to arrive at.” So it would be like, “Who is the person that sits in the doorway of the house that we would like to have a dinner meal in to see what this is actually about?” It’s that kind of a notion.

And what I found, pretty consistently — I think there’s limited power in convening people to your space or trying to create the perfect table and space. I think one of the things that I’ve found more transformative — if you can get even a small number, two, three, or four, who actually travel; that is — and I don’t only mean literally, travel — if I’m with America, and we have this approach, I go and spend time where she’s from. She’s my allegada. She’s the person that opens the doorway, and when I go, I’m not gonna talk. I’m gonna sit and listen. My view is that you start small. But you care for the quality. So it’s not the quantity …

Ms. Tippett: That’s another un-American statement of yours.

Mr. Lederach: It’s not the quantity. So the critical mass, actually, in physics, it’s not the quantity. It’s the quality of a particular interaction that creates the replication of energy. But we have under-attended to — this is what was so brilliant in what you were just saying there — we’ve under-attended to creating the quality that recuperates the trust that we need to build what you call, Krista, the connective tissue.

So that’s the notion: the “yeast” word was simply to create the provocation. The smallest ingredient that, when well mixed — there’s a lot of questions around yeast. First of all, yeast, if it sits in a jar, is useless. So it’s not yeast, per se. You have to take the yeast out of the jar; and then, you have to prepare it. And typically, you do that with a little bit of moisture, a little bit of sugar, and not too much burning light. So you’re actually talking about kind of a preparatory space that we don’t often want to do. And then, when you put it in the mass, you mix it. But you never accept the first mix or two. You keep beating it up. You knead it. “I don’t care if you’re growing. Go back down. We’re gonna try it again.”

So just the metaphors kind of captured imagination about what, actually, people who were in a situation where they felt that there were only a few of them could understand that this may, in fact, be the ingredient that makes everything else grow. And how do you attend to that quality? That was really what critical yeast was about: quality of relationship.

[music: “Riddle Me This” by Rhian Sheehan]

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, how change happens with John Paul Lederach, one of our greatest architects of social transformation, together with artist/activist America Ferrera.

Ms. Tippett: I feel like when you are talking about, like right now — this is a way you’ve said it — you’re part of these multiple, overlapping, converging initiatives, some of which are very well publicized now, some of which are more emergent — and that it’s essentially leaderless; there’s no great charismatic leader. It feels to me like a lot of what is brewing — and especially in Hollywood, among artists — is kind of new-form social innovation. Are you thinking about it that way? Are you feeling that, that there’s not a path?

Ms. Ferrera: Yeah — what I’m feeling is that it’s so complicated [laughs] and that we’re figuring it out; and that when you’re at the edge of what you know, and you’re at the edge of what you can see, in terms of what is evidenced about what works, it gets really uncomfortable. And we go to what we know. And so something beautiful emerges out of a moment, excitement — yeast, reaching a point where it explodes into something great.

But then our human instincts kick in, and we want to control it, and we want to define it, and we want to put it in a form that we recognize and understand. And so the instinct can be: Who’s the leader? And what’s the process? And who reports to whom, and what’s the chain of command, and who gets to use the logo, [laughs] and defining the “we.”

And that part is — it’s really the creative part, because if we can’t bring our imaginations to that moment, then we just recreate what we’ve seen and what’s been created. But we’re trying to push something new into the world. We’re trying to bring something through that’s never been brought through, and it’s hard. And we have to continually remind ourselves that our discomfort and our grappling is not a sign of failure. It’s a sign that we’re living at the edge of our imaginations.

Ms. Tippett: I wonder, just as we close, reluctantly, if you have questions of each other before we close. I love bringing this generational friendship into being.

Mr. Lederach: Yeah, absolutely — brilliant. When you talk, it’s an extraordinary range of things. And so how do we best imagine ways to support that being strong and supple that can weather the things that will likely come? I think the great hope, I think, is in the rising generations. It’s clear as a bell, in so many ways.

Ms. Ferrera: One thing that has been really on my mind is this idea of what we place value on. And I think we have a certain way of thinking about change and how change happens. And I think that’s all up in the air right now. And there are people doing the work of deep culture shift, but we have to value it, as a society, with our money, with our time, with our journalism, with the conversations that we choose to have. This is a storytelling exercise, this era we’re living in. And who’s telling the story better? And who’s out there trying to tell a new story, trying to tell a different story, trying to shift the form of the story, and how do we get behind them? How do we get behind the young people who understand that this isn’t about politicians, and it isn’t about our elected officials. This is about the stories we tell each other and that we choose to believe.

Mr. Lederach: Yeah, true.


Ms. Ferrera: Well, I have so many questions for John Paul; mainly, can I have your email address so that we can keep in touch?


But I have so many questions. I guess the personal relationship question would be: Has there been a relationship in your own life that you’ve built that was that unexpected relationship that shifted the way that you could see things; and if so, what did it shift?

Mr. Lederach: Oh, absolutely, and it’s been in different places. I think the one that would come most to mind is my very dear friend, Ricardo Esquivia, from Colombia. Ricardo grew up in the streets because his father had leprosy, in the outskirts of a little town in the north part of Colombia. And from that starting point, as an Afro-Colombian, to becoming a human rights lawyer, he and I developed a relationship, because it traversed some things that — of times when he had to leave, came up to where we are so that he could have periods of safety for his family, and then going back.

But the shifts always came, for me, with Ricardo that were basically this: You can be angry, but don’t become bitter. You can be angry, but don’t refuse to talk. You can be angry, but don’t forget to love. And he’s slightly my elder, by about a five, maybe eight-year period. And there were periods where, to be honest, my anger was headed more for the bitter. I forgot to love. And then you have this extraordinary friendship of somebody who’s been through so much more, who just comes alongside — I love alongside — takes your arm and says, “Let’s walk.”

And I think that’s, for me, what shifts it, is that it’s a quality — so the big difference between trying to create a conversation for instrumental reasons — because you have a purpose that you want to try to get somebody to do something — and committing yourself to friendship, even though you’re deeply different in many things that life has brought — that’s a shift. And I learned that from — he would be an example among many. But that, for me, was very, very powerful in my life.

Ms. Tippett: I’m so glad you’re both in the world. Thank you, John Paul Lederach and America Ferrera.


[music: “Lost in Addiction” by Ovum]

Ms. Tippett: John Paul Lederach is a senior fellow at Humanity United and professor emeritus of international peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame. He is also the co-founder and first director of the Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. In 2019 he was awarded the Niwano Peace Foundation Peace Prize.

America Ferrera is an Emmy Award-winning actor and producer. She’s known for the movies Real Women Have Curves and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants; for the TV series Ugly Betty; and she’s now starring in and co-producing the NBC series Superstore.

Staff: The On Being Project is Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Marie Sambilay, Erinn Farrell, Laurén Dørdal, Tony Liu, Erin Colasacco, Kristin Lin, Profit Idowu, Eddie Gonzalez, Lilian Vo, Lucas Johnson, Damon Lee, Suzette Burley, Katie Gordon, Zack Rose, Serri Graslie, Nicole Finn, and Colleen Scheck.

The On Being Project is located on Dakota Land. Our lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoë Keating. And the last voice that you hear singing at the end of our show is Cameron Kinghorn.

On Being is an independent production of The On Being Project. It is distributed to public radio stations by PRX. I created this show at American Public Media.

Our funding partners include:

The George Family Foundation, in support of the Civil Conversations Project.

The Fetzer Institute, helping to build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Find them at fetzer.org.

Kalliopeia Foundation, working to create a future where universal spiritual values form the foundation of how we care for our common home.

Humanity United, advancing human dignity at home and around the world. Find out more at humanityunited.org, part of the Omidyar Group.

The Osprey Foundation — a catalyst for empowered, healthy, and fulfilled lives.

And the Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based, private family foundation dedicated to its founders’ interests in religion, community development, and education.

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