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Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver


At a certain point, we must choose the impact we wish to make in the world—and in some cases it is chosen for us. Regardless, how we engage with our desire to see positive change and the circumstances in which we have found ourselves are the building blocks of legacy.

I’ve often lived by the maxim that “People don’t remember what you did or said, they remember how you made them feel.” My commitment in the world is to create change by facilitating connection and transforming differences among those dedicated to building stronger communities. Whether this is an individual organization, a grassroots neighborhood effort, or a broad coalition working to shape policy change, I am dedicated to “restoring the civic ecosystem”—the way in which we build relationships, resolve conflicts, and take action—so that we can be effective in creating a more sustainable, humane society.

I have been encouraged to pursue this commitment and build this legacy by those who have come before me, whether or not I knew them. In this spirit, I’d like to honor someone here who I did not even know, but whose existence has touched my life.

My friend and associate Raquel’s father, Gustavo Gutierrez, passed away earlier this month. He worked with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, founding the Migrant Opportunity Program , the Arizona Farm Workers Association and Chicanos por la Causa throughout the 1960s. While I never had the honor of meeting him, I was inspired to hear about his efforts and passionate dedication to social equity. I have witnessed how he shaped Raquel’s work as a social justice advocate and the work of so many activists in Arizona, nationally and internationally.

Beyond his contribution as an activist and organizer, Gustavo was rooted in both Western and Native spiritual traditions. I firmly believe that you can do good work in the world no matter who you are or what you believe, and that a commitment to something larger than yourself deepens the experience of why you are doing the work and the legacy you leave. Whether that is a connection to a particular community or to nature, or faith in a spiritual tradition, our legacy is enriched when our individual efforts find a connection to something more universal.

Legacy isn’t simply about our gifts that we bring to the world and what we hope to inspire in others, but about the way we shape our communities and our landscape.. My colleague Kaid Benfield wrote about this in one of his great blog posts late last year, observing that creating continuity in a place or a community is not simply a design exercise, but a fundamental part of our humanity.

Whether we are committed to transforming ourselves, touching the lives of others, creating a work of art, shaping and protecting the places we treasure, or all of these things, clarifying how we each would best like to contribute our skills and vision is not simply fulfilling for us, it is essential for making a difference in our world and in the lives of others.

As the theologian Howard Thurman has written:

“Don’t worry about what the world needs. Find what makes you come alive and do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”

October 2012