Social Justice Institute Speaker Asks: How Do Spirituality and Leadership Connect?

Sharon Daloz Parks

Leadership is dependent on the power of the collective imagination, but how do we access imagination? How do we find the inspiration we need in order to lead?

Nationally known educator and author Sharon Daloz Parks addressed that question in a speech on “Spirituality of Leadership & Social Justice” before an audience of more than 100 people at Saint Mary’s last week.

In her address to the 6th Annual Social Justice Institute, a two-day forum presented by the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action, Parks acknowledged that it isn’t always easy to get in touch with the power of imagination and inspiration, especially in what she called our “society of systemic distraction.”

“Never before in the history of our species have we had more access to knowing so much of the suffering of the world,” she said. “But never before in the history of our species have we known more of the wonder of the world, the universe.” For  those who work in social justice, this can be particularly overwhelming.

Big Questions, Worthy Dreams

To find inspiration in the midst of this barrage of knowledge, Parks said, we need to tap into the power of images and create “big enough questions and truly worthy dreams.” But Parks, who is the author of Leadership Can Be Taught: A Bold Approach for a Complex World and other books, noted that those who work in social justice have a responsibility to offer up not only images of injustice, but also images of hope, because it is precisely this dissonance that activates the imagination.

Or, as she put it, “We need to dwell at the crossroads of suffering and wonder.”

And if we truly want to find inspiration, she said, we need “the discipline of pause.” It’s not something we do often in this 24-7 world in which we’re always “plugged in,” but she noted that it’s at the heart of many spiritual practices, including the Sabbath and meditation. Whether it’s for “two seconds or ten years,” we need to pause in order to access imagination or inspiration. “That’s how spirit speaks to us,” she said.

SMC Presenters Share Their Research

Saint Mary’s Community members presenting at the institute included:

CILSA Director Marshall  Welch and Community Engagement Coordinator Ryan Lamberton on “Spirituality & Service-Learning: From Theory to Practice,” a framework for spiritual formation, with examples of how it applies in service and service-learning.

Leadership Studies lecturer Maura Wolf, who joined with Meghan Voorhees of UC Berkeley to present “Practices of Self-Sustainability,” a workshop that included exercises in mindfulness, values exploration, finding time for creativity and storytelling.

Graduates of SMC’s Leadership Studies Programs presented three “Research in Action” panels. Participated included:

Tammy Appling-Cabading, Ann Marie Foley, LaDonna Harris and Charles Torres on “Teaching Leadership to Women Transitioning Out of Jail,” Karla Jenkins and Tonia Ledjiu on “Improving the Lives of African American Females in Foster Care,” Vanessa Gomez on “Transmitting Mexican Cultural Identity from Second to Third Generation Immigrants,” David Escobar on “Creating Conditions for a Partnership to Improve Farm Worker Housing,” Carla Rosas on “Upholding the Laws of a Relationship,” and Ahmad Mansur on “Addressing Regional Under-Representation of Minority Secondary Students in Post-Secondary Digital Media Programs.”

View the program to learn about other participants.

Teresa Castle
Office of College Communications