grassroots gratitude

 Mary Laurel True, Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg University, Director of Service Learning and Community Engagement

Mary Laurel True, Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg University, Director of Service Learning and Community Engagement

Waking early in the morning, her father would learn the news of the day and shortly thereafter begin playing the symphonic notes of the cacophonous typewriter, drafting an editorial or simply collecting his thoughts. For his activities of protestation, he’d spent time behind bars. He was living the truth as he believed it and leading others in the community to do the same.

Their house served as a hub for the anti-war movement in Massachusetts. It was the 1960’s. People came and went. But not just any people… Dorothea Day, the Berrigan Brothers, Robert Bly, draft dodgers… These were people engaged to a profound conviction of justice and peace.

This was the childhood home of Mary Laurel True.


For Mary Laurel, her father’s example served as the seed for the work she does today at the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg University.

The primary focus of her work is to foster community engagement. She says that the best learning happens through experience, through true engagement with the world and others around us. It’s not enough to talk about civic engagement, about going to vote and giving wings to our voice as a democracy.

Right here in this neighborhood, we have a chance to learn about crucial world issues.
— M.L.T

We need alternative language for these discussions. This is where she talks about engaging the heart through experiential learning.

Community engagement is more about the exchange and less about do-gooderism.

She advocates for a “grassroots reciprocal” movement, where people learn to work together, operating on the basis of a trusting relationship.

In a word: multiculturalism. (Watch for an upcoming blog post on this topic).

Perhaps the most difficult hurdle to maintaining successful multiculturalism has to do the idea of treating other people as we would ourselves like to be treated. Many of us don’t entirely know what that means because we treat ourselves so poorly.

When people act badly, it’s almost always because of a story that they have of themselves, who they are or what other people have told them about who they are.
— M.L.T.

Only if we know how to respect ourselves, can we treat others well. And knowing that in our acts of treating others poorly, that we are ultimately hurting ourselves, brings us closer to a place of constructive progression.

“We’re all walking wounded,” her father used to say. Knowing our personal histories, our values and where they come from, in part allows us to recognize the demons within ourselves. Knowing these demons, shaking hands and wrestling with them so to speak, keeps us humble.

From this position, we can hold firmly to and stand up for our values, but do so in a way that sets aside a judgment of another person that could also be aimed at ourselves.

True_Mary_Laurel open to change.jpg

This humility leaves us open to the inevitable event of change and bars us from pretending to know what we don’t. (link: on recognizing our limitations)

In this realm, fixed viewpoints are not afforded refuge.


- - What fixed viewpoints do I hold and how do I justify their status as fixed? - -


Learning, curiosity and gratitude flourish here.

True_Mary_Laurel curiosity.jpg

A mindset of gratitude has the potential to shift our worldview.

Instead of bemoaning having to go to work, perhaps maintaining gratitude for the availability of work is a better option.

Of course, who is anyone to tell another person to be grateful for what they have, especially if they don’t have much? But still, the lens of gratitude is a powerfully transformative one.

Allowing this lens to be made clearer with an understanding of where we come from and a thoughtful grasp of the principles we’ve picked up along the journey, can bring a more holistic view to our path forward. It makes us human and calls to our attention the humanness of others.

Not a bad place to start from...


Check out the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg University.