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Jackie Ehlers: We're All in this World Together
One Global Family
At the tender age of 9, Jackie Ehlers realized that we are all connected. We are all human. For 71 years, she has served to help others remember this fundamental truth. On this week’s Awakin Call, Jackie and her daughter Michelle shared ways and means to "transform the prevailing conversations of the world from 'Us vs. Them' to 'We Earthlings are All in this World Together."
Jackie Ehlers is an award-winning global educator, community organizer, and human rights advocate who has lived and worked on three different continents. She embodies personally and professionally her core belief that "we're all in this world together." Personally, she and her late husband have raised both biological and adopted children to create a multi-ethnic family that now represents Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America. Professionally, Jackie has taught students from over 100 countries; co-founded World Awareness, Inc., designed to promote global awareness and global citizenship through activities and products; and co-founded Global Leadership Network, committed to generating Transformational Global Leadership through coaching, organizational consulting, and training programs.
Here are a few highlights that offer insight into how we can think and act globally.
“We Earthlings are all in this World Together”
Jackie’s promise to the world is to transform the prevailing conversations of the world from “Us vs. Them” to “We Earthlings are All in this World Together.” When Jackie was 9 years old, she was laying in the snow “meditating,” when she saw how the world looked from the perspective of an alien. She realized how ludicrous borders, racism, and sexism where from that perspective. We are all humans first and foremost. To treat others differently just because they are exposed to more sun and have darker skin is an illusion.
Many individuals think these thoughts or make these realizations, but Jackie lives them. She adopted 3 children of different cultural backgrounds and raised them with her biological children. She remembers when her youngest sister, Leslie, who had Down’s Syndrome, was sent away to live apart from the family. It broke 13 year old Jackie’s heart. “It was the only time I thought about running away from home.” Jackie made a promise to herself, “I can’t help Leslie, but I can help other kids,” and she has made good on her promise. She adopted children as old as 12 years old who were stuck in the orphanages. She also advocated to change the local and national color matching laws that prevented parents from adopting children across race lines. Her local efforts grew to become the National Coalition to End Racism in America’s Child Care System.
Michelle shared with me that she and her mother don’t see race, gender, or nationality. They just see one world, one religion, one love. I’ve heard others make this claim before, but Michelle and Jackie don’t just talk the talk; they walk the walk.
Jackie goes beyond the saying “think globally, act locally.” She advocates globalizing everything. “It is very important to realize that ‘local’ and ‘global’ is not a here and there conversation. The global is really local on this earth. When we say local, it is just a matter of focus. It always starts with me here, and expands outward. Global is just an expanded focus of me,” says Jackie. “Working in our immediate environment is really essential, but it is not enough for the circumstances we are in now, and engaging globally doesn’t mean that we don’t engage personally or locally. What is really important is to keep your engagement and awareness at multiple levels,” she continues.
Both Jackie and Michelle are committed to Transformational Global Leadership. Their motto is “generating fulfillment of a seemingly impossible vision for every human being.” The vision is “seemingly” impossible, because people get trapped in their limited cultural, religious, social views, but when we “globalize everything,” anything is possible.
As Jackie says, “A relatively small group of people can make a big difference…an expert is not necessarily the person most educated about something; it is someone who cares about and works on something large, a large endeavor, long enough to really understand it.” These are powerful lessons on how we can make global change by caring and working on something beyond ourselves.
More recently Jackie has been involved with Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which focus on 1) Environmental sustainability, 2) social inclusion, and 3) inclusive economic development. SDGs are a global initiative that sees the planet as one. Or as Jackie puts it, “The Sustainable Development Goals are generating a unifying commitment, a common plan, and a global consensus. We’re all in this World Together!
Fairness and Equality
In all Jackie’s endeavors, one thing shines through: a strong sense of equality and fairness. Jackie sees everyone as equals worthy of our attention and love. In reference to teaching, she uses an analogy from music: "Teaching is like conducting an orchestra; You've got to recognize the importance of the contribution and hard work and expertise of every player in that orchestra and every section in that orchestra...The music that the whole orchestra can make is not possible for the conductor alone or any section alone."
When we open up to diversity and equality something magical happens: “When you bring people together who normally wouldn’t get together to create something, really beautiful things happen, really amazing things happen.” Jackie is always trying to create something beautiful that includes everyone. When asked about how she inspires so many others, she advises, “Listening for the value in the people you are working with, because I don’t believe that mentoring is just mentoring: I like to turn mentorships into partnerships, because whoever I am teaching has something of equal value to teach me.”
A good example of this partnership occurred when one of Jackie’s students became so inspired that he wrote a song called “One God, One World” that Jackie helped to get recorded. The song spread internationally across America and Japan.
The equality among people also applies to equality in larger systems. “I feel that the center of all spiritual systems are the same. The differences between them come about in language,” says the Jewish born Ehlers who married a Protestant, converted to Catholicism, and practices all different forms of spirituality. While teaching in both Catholic and Muslim schools, Jackie noticed that she was teaching the exact same values. This confirmed what she had known since she was 9 years old, we are all the same.
One has to wonder what it is like looking through the eyes of this 80 year old who sees “all humanity as one entity.” This short call gave us a glimpse of this global view and inspired us to change our perspectives. With elders like Jackie leading the way, anything is truly possible.
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