Gratitude, Growth, and New Responsibilities

Interviews with Layli Miller-Muro, Amy O’Neill Richard, and Laura Liswood

Layli Miller Muro is the Founder & Executive Director of the Tahirih Justice Center

Zach Wagner
Layli Miller-Muro

Our first interview today was at Vital Voices With Layli Miller-Muro. I was excited for this interview because Miller-Muro is a follower of the Baha’i faith, which was the topic of my final essay for World Religions. Once the interview started, it was overwhelmingly apparent how the Baha’i faith has influenced her political views. The most basic premise of the Baha’i faith is finding the oneness in all religions. Baha’i’s believe that every religion and its prophets were sent to us by the same God and for the same purpose. These prophets are sent every thousand years or so and carry the knowledge that humanity is ready to receive at the current time.

Miller-Muro’s organization, the Tahirih Justice Center is dedicated to supporting women who have experienced extreme trauma in their lives relating to gender crimes. She spoke to us about the value of allowing women to find their power for the sake of a stronger society. She mentioned a Baha’i metaphor that describes humanity as a bird. One of the bird’s wings represents men, and the other represents women. If the bird’s wings are not of equal strength then the bird cannot fly. In both this interview and the others regarding women’s issues, a large theme was that women and men have vast differences and yet equality can absolutely be achieved between two groups even if they are different. A point that was emphasized was how treating women and men as the same is ineffective, and it is in fact our differences that make us so valuable when we join together in power structures. The more diversity a body of leadership gains, the stronger it is.

Another aspect of the interview with Miller-Muro that struck me was her ocean analogy. The essential nature of the analogy is that all of us are in individual boats floating on an endless ocean that we have no control over. Not all of our boats are the same, as some are far more advantaged than others and just run differently. What we are able to choose is the directions our boats are going and improvements on our own boat, and we must acknowledge the ocean as a force beyond our control. We will always be subject to change, adversity, and anything else the storm manifests around us. Overall, the interview today with Layli Miller-Muro affirmed many of the themes we have been absorbing so far on the trip, as well as provided new and unique perspective on the human experience as a whole.

Sage Turner

In our last day of interviews on the DC trip, we radically ended with a bang! After our relaxing trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains, we all started to lose energy and drive, and the majority of the group was yearning to go home. However our last two days of interviews on Monday and today reassured us about why we are delighted to be here experiencing everything before heading home.

Layli Miller-Muro had a huge impact and shined her light on us. I was personally looking forward to her interview because of my preliminary research on her. I’m struck by these preliminary interviews because it’s fascinating when all you have is a photo and some information about an influencing person, and then you get to actually meet them up close and discover that they are a familiar face on the exact same level as you are. Layli practices the faith of Baha’i, which is a very unique and profound religion. She emphasized the “oneness” that Baha’i holds, oneness of all the gods and oneness of all the people under their eyes. Layli is exceptional because she is able to hold strong connections to her faith and weave it into her work in her organization Tahirih Justice Center. She holds a very striking view on growth. She said, “There’s a human tendency to not grow unless we’re uncomfortable.” Therefore she emphasized that we need to embrace the uncomfortable and look at it as a chance to grow and take on opportunity.
Another thing that stuck out to me was her ability to use metaphor and allegories to clearly show her points. She said that our civilization is like a bird, the right wing is the men and the left is the women, and the left wing is injured and unequal to the right wing; in order for the bird of “civilization” to fly well, the left wing needs to be just as strong as the right.

The other use of metaphor that stuck with me was when she said, “Hoist your sails and set a course, but be open to the wind and current.” This piece of advice I will bring with me into my young adulthood because it reminds me to be a dreamer and to maintain discipline—a wild card and a wise man.

Mount Madonna students with Layli Miller-Muro

Amy O’Neill Richard is a Senior Advisor at the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

Emily Villareal
Amy O’Neill Richard

Amy O’Neill Richard knew from a young age that she wanted to work on an issue that benefited humanity on a global scale, and now she is the Senior Advisor to the Director in the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Along the way she was not afraid to question the people who told her no. When interviewing for a position in her current department, she got pretty far before she was told she might be better suited in a different area. Instead of giving up her dream, she followed that lead in pursuit of her goal, and eventually, through an entirely different doorway, she got the job. This evolved to be the job that she is still so dedicated and passionate about many years later. She made me realize I could be better at speaking my mind and standing up for my own abilities, especially when others doubt me.

A common theme I have seen here in DC is how all these people we’ve been interviewing are so passionate about their work. The level of commitment and research is what led them to become such successful people. Amy O’Neill Richard said, “You’ll be good at what you love because you’ll seek to learn more about it and have more opportunities and risks related to it.” So now I can just hope that I find something that I really care about and am brave enough to pursue fully.

Lillian Wayne

Today was our last day of interviews in Washington DC, and we had the opportunity to interview many extraordinary women. My personal favorite was Amy O’Neill Richard. Before this interview I didn’t know much about her except that she is the Senior Advisor to the Director in the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Upon meeting her, I could definitely feel her passion and care for this issue pouring out of every word. Amy O’Neill Richard is bright, answered our questions thoroughly, and is extremely well-spoken.

I got the opportunity to be the first one to ask her a question. It was nice asking my question first because I could enjoy the rest of the interview and not be nervous thinking about how I was going to ask my question. I asked her if she could talk more about how she became so interested and driven towards the issue of human trafficking. She gave a long answer about her background and history and how she got to where she is today, but then she said something that really struck me and that I will definitely take home with me. She said to do what you feel deeply passionate about in life, but don’t limit yourself and close off other opportunities. This is definitely an important thought I will keep with me as I enter senior year and get closer to college. Today was a great day of interviews with a great group of women, a strong ending to our trip.

Mount Madonna students with Amy O’Neill Richard

Laura Liswood is the Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders

Mara Peruzzi
Laura Liswood

I am thrilled to have ended our time in DC with an energetic and insightful interview with Laura Liswood. I had the privilege to sit right next to her where I truly felt her cheerful and thoughtful nature, as well as the connection and investment she held in our conversation. She was very personable as she made sure everyone introduced themselves before speaking, and then repeated their name back in a playful manner. She used humor throughout the interview with analogies that made her messages meaningful. I found her to be very knowledgeable in the way in which she conveyed her answers.

One thing that struck me was her insight about the different ways in which women and men process feedback that holds both positive and negative aspects. She said, “Failure is the best way to learn.” Although I have heard this before, hearing this from someone so inspiring and intelligent really put it in perspective for me that I am not the only one who holds this standard that failure promotes growth. She explained that women generally focus on the bad feedback and brush off the positive comments, while men tend to brush off the negative feedback and immerse themselves in the positive feedback.

I asked her a question that illuminated how men have an easier time being accepted for their mistakes and often move up the ladder, while women are only allowed to fail a certain amount of times before being labeled as useless. While exploring these discrepancies, she pointed out that women are often put in a leadership position when the country is in the middle of a crisis. This is because the country finally opens up to new alternatives only when it has no other options. Because of this and the bias society holds toward women, it is harder for women to prove themselves as useful and gifted when they are pressured by these expectations.

Gracie Howley

Laura Liswood talked about all of the traits that I want to possess. She is the Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, which is composed of women presidents, prime ministers, and heads of government. She is funny, powerful, aware, and strong. I am very interested in how to be a leader, more specifically a woman leader. My junior year of varsity volleyball we lost six seniors, so I was the oldest and most experienced girl on varsity. For some reason I stepped up. I created a summer workout plan and schedule. I took on the responsibilities of captain and ever since, I have a hunger for leadership. Our experiences in DC have provided a surprising amount of tips on being a good leader. Interestingly, the majority of leadership advice that I absorbed came from the women we interviewed, and so much of what I’ve learned about leadership on this trip came from Laura Liswood.

Leadership Skills: You should have curiosity, trust, strong ideas, and be able to express them; you need the ability to energize others, possess good humor, thick skin, direction, a “true north” and set of values, a willingness to challenge authority, the experience and willingness to travel to other people’s perspectives, the ability to take critical feedback and to take on the traits of the dominant and the non-dominant groups; you need to recognize where there is need and adapt skill sets to meet that need. She also spoke about the difference between an instinctual leader—one who is good until their familiar experience changes—and a conscious leader, one who has the natural ability to learn and adapt to govern regardless of circumstances. I am an instinctual leader. My only leadership experience has been in volleyball. I am a good sports captain, but I have noticed I struggle with wanting to step up when put in other situations.

I will be putting this advice into effect immediately and start experimenting how each trait can function best through my personality, so I can learn to be a more conscious leader.

John Dias

We’re nearing the end of our trip and the interview process that we’ve been engaged with has become familiar and special. We’ve been working so hard to learn as much as we possibly can from all of these people who have done a great deal of meaningful work. Today we had our last interview with a woman who tied almost every single theme we’ve heard on this trip together. Laura Liswood is a powerful woman leader whose presence cannot be described in words. This woman was one of the most amazing and inspiring people I’ve ever met because of her ability to effectively and efficiently communicate. She had the most amazing way of interacting with us through her humor and her engagement with each and every one of us.  She explained her ideas through a series of different terms and analogies that she had coined for different issues relating to diversity, leadership, gender roles, hyper-vigilance, and citizenship. She explained that she has developed her effective communication skills through her experience in law school and the thousands of opportunities that she has had to speak publically.

During this interview she explained that doing your job in the best way that you can, will lead you towards having experiences that can further develop your intuition. An important realization I took away from our time with Laura Liswood was the value that pursuing higher education and particularly graduate school could have in terms of acquiring communication skills. In almost every single interview there has been a realization that I’ve had that has expanded my mind in ways that I never thought to be imaginable. I know that these meaningful realizations will help me find my best self when I choose to reflect on them and choose to further my understanding of concepts and lessons that we’ve learned.

While walking back to the Pilgrimage in a wild rainstorm after our last interview, I felt a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. The torrential rain was getting all of us wet, and the few umbrellas we carried were not nearly enough to keep the water off of our suits and dresses. Yet all around me there was positive energy and a solid feeling that we had collectively achieved an experience of mind-expanding learning that would lead to a lifetime of purposeful living. This experience that I have been privileged to have wouldn’t be possible without the investment that our teacher Ward has put into his students and program over a course of 30+ years. Returning to the Pilgrimage a few days ago after a long day Ward explained the importance of reflection as we move forward. This trip has inspired me a lot more then I ever thought it could, and I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of this and to continue my journey with these memories and reflections.

Mount Madonna students with Laura Liswood

1 thought on “Gratitude, Growth, and New Responsibilities”

  1. I’m so impressed with how thoughtfully you all listened and reflected on the messages these inspiring women leaders had to share! They are doing amazing work in the world on behalf of women and gender equality and I hope it inspired you to think about these global issues in a new and personal way.

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