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  • wisdom
  • | women
  • | potential
  • | empathy
By Amy Ferguson

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day to honor women’s economic, political, and social contributions and achievements. When I think about the women who have helped shape my life, there are many who come to mind, which prompted me to ask my workmates about the wise women in their lives. Here are a few we have to thank for offering their love, kindness, wisdom, and steadfast sense of self that encourage us to be better people.

  •  My sister Joan who has been teaching me (since I was about 6) that it’s not always necessary to shout to be heard.
  • Sister Mary Carol Schroeder, a progressive feminist and Franciscan sister who taught at Marian University beginning in the 1940s. She was a historian and expert on non-Western studies with a deep commitment to the poor and to social justice. The embodiment of wisdom, she mentored with quiet grace and inspired countless young women to deepen our learning, to strengthen our commitment to justice, and to become our best selves.
  • My wise woman is an obvious one, my mother. She lived by and taught me the Golden Rule. As a Head Start and elementary school teacher, she brought love and compassion into the classroom, including making holiday gifts, like book bags filled with school supplies, for her students.
  • My three-year-old daughter who told me last week, “When I grow up I want to be an artist, a drawist, a paintist, a scholar, and a seller of princess dresses.” And on the difference between mommies and poppies, she said, “Poppies work. Mommies work and doing everything else. Poppies also like hot sauce.”
  • Ruth Earl, my Western Civilization teacher in high school. Brilliant and fierce, one of the first women to graduate from the University of Michigan, she modeled fairness and excellence. Students in the more popular cliques learned quickly not to expect special treatment—rules applied equally to everyone. She made it a special point one day to inform us that Kevin, the guy whom many wrote off as a “stoner,” had achieved the highest SAT score in the history of our school—her way of reminding us that appearances can be deceiving and to value all among us.
  • My grandmother, who will be 95 next month, still soothes any anxiety I have about uncertainty or making big decisions by saying, “Honey, it will all come out in the wash.” To her, this means that you can only do what you do, so be patient and wait for the right set of circumstances (or thoughts) to come along to make your decision crystal clear. Of her many wise words, these are the ones that I say to myself often.

And then there are the women who take to (or are thrust on) a bigger stage who lead, teach, and inspire us to be and do our best, to “see” each other, and help each other. Here are two amazing women who do that for us:

Activist and elder Grace Lee Boggs on nurturing our potential (2:31)

Author Naseem Rakha on empathy and observation (2:42)

There are countless wise women who have helped shape our lives in big and small ways. Who are some of yours?

Amy Ferguson, a communication specialist at the Fetzer Institute, is fortunate to know--and work with--so many wise women.