Some things are hard to measure. Many of the best things in life are difficult to quantify. Happiness. A sense of belonging. Faith. Love.
We try. We measure things in dollars and followers and statistics. But when it comes to things of intrinsic value, those numbers often fall short.
In my 2010 interview with Marion Vance for my first book, she explained that we need a better measuring stick. “The tendency is to try to put a number on everything, and to think something is real if you can count it or measure it. Many of life’s benefits you can’t put on a scale and see how much they weigh. We have to change how we measure success.”
You can read more from my interview with Marion in this story that ran in the Carleton Voice.
I’ve tried different ways of measuring A Peace of My Mind’s impact through the years. We have counted the number of engagements, the size of our audience, our followers on our social media sites.
But at the end of the day, none of those statistics matter as much as seeing a student’s eyes light up as they imagine new possibilities. Or a woman who approaches the stage in tears after a talk and simply says, “I needed to hear that today.” Or a student wearing a hijab or a military veteran or a death row inmate who says, “thank you for taking the time to listen to my story.”
This year was the 10th anniversary for A Peace of My Mind. We’ve been gathering stories and using them to bridge divides for the entirety of the last decade and the process has been both exciting and exhausting. Encouraging and frustrating. Challenging and rewarding. Yet, I can’t imagine doing anything else. We continue to find new ways to engage communities and in many ways I feel like we are just getting started.
We worked in a dozen states in 2019, with multiple stops in Colorado, New York, Wisconsin and Washington. Our engagements included professional conferences, civic organizations, houses of worship and schools of all kinds. Our educational venues ranged from public middle schools to community colleges and Ivy League universities.
Our programming in 2019 expanded to include international destinations when we partnered with Good Deeds Day to gather stories at their regional conferences in Kenya, Peru and Thailand, photographing and including people from 59 countries.
I spoke to audiences of 1,500 from a highly produced stage with three giant screens, and in other places we pulled chairs into a small circle for an intimate conversation with just a handful of folks.
We released a new training video that is being used in schools, churches and businesses to encourage conversations around empathy, civility and inclusion. (In fact, we are leading a free workshop in Minneapolis around the video on Jan. 8 if you’re interested in learning more.)
We celebrated our 10th anniversary in the spring with an evening of storytelling at Squirrel Haus Arts, accompanied by my friend and musician Neal Hagberg and joined on stage by Barbara Nordtsrom-Loeb, who was the very first interview I did for the project.
Wedged in between programing and travel, I have been making steady progress on the final revisions of a new book that will tell my own story. I’m hopeful that by the end of January the manuscript for Lessons on the Road To Peace will be in good enough shape to start looking for a publisher.
But, of course, life isn’t all sunshine and daisies. Life on the road can wear you out. I was hit up by a little traveler’s belly in Thailand. More than once I checked my phone to recall what city I was in…what time zone it was. I applied for and did not receive a Fulbright award. I applied for and did not get a Bush Fellowship. But I still believe that your odds are greatly improved by asking. The answer is not always yes, but there is learning in the process. If we had stopped whenever we encountered obstacles in the past, we never would have gotten this far.
Throughout the year—no matter how busy—we squeezed in a little time for adventure, exploration and new ideas. Live music, educational lectures, family outings, a hike in the wilderness, a visit to a historic site, a trip to a local museum or just a good coffee shop. We managed a brief safari in Africa, visited temples in Thailand and climbed sand dunes in Colorado. There is beauty all around us, and in the midst of a demanding schedule, I find peace in these little moments of exploration.
Over the past year…the past decade…of doing this work, there are so many lessons I have learned. Perhaps most valuable is understanding the power of these simple words: “I see you. I hear you. And you matter.”
I’ve been saying a version of this for years, but it was just this summer when I learned from spoken word artist Joe Davis that it is an old Zulu saying.
In our hyper-connected world, where so many people feel disconnected, those simple words can fill a deep hunger and nourish a sense of worth.
I see you. I hear you. You matter.
I hope you’ll both hear those words and say them to others in the coming year. For A Peace of My Mind, we’ve found that hearing and sharing stories can be a powerful way to do just that.
At the very last engagement of 2019, Pastor Laila Barr spent some time with the stories in our American Stories exhibit and she shared this:
“Each of these stories is gospel. John’s art reveals the gospel truth that each person is beloved, each person matters, each person has a story to tell, each person has something to teach all of us.”
Thanks for following A Peace of My Mind. I’m looking forward to another year of adventure, learning and making connections together. Wishing you all peace and stories of transformation in the new year.