Why are you a strategist for good?
“There’s a scene in the 1978 Superman movie: a young, awkward Clark Kent is drawn to the barn containing the crystal from Kypton. Without words, the glowing green crystal speaks to him and he embraces his calling. The first time I volunteered at a soup kitchen with my mother, I knew I had a calling: to make the world a better place. I can’t fly or pull off that tight spandex outfit; I’m like the nerdy side-kick — way more Hermione Granger than Harry Potter. My spells are stories. I use what Jonathan Gottschall calls their ‘weird and witchy power’ to shape attitudes and influence behaviors. I use that knowledge to make the world a better place.”
What good have you done that you’re proudest of?
“I’m very proud of the storytelling strategies I developed, in partnership with Amy Simon and Justin Adams, on how to talk to Christians about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. That work, on behalf of Auburn Theological Seminary, was a breakthrough moment. We discovered the storytelling elements that help conflicted Christians manage their moral conflicts and embrace our shared humanity. My wonderful thought partners, Amy Simon and Phyllis Watts, used that and other research they led to help score amazing freedom-to-marry victories in Maine, Washington, and Minnesota. That assignment was a genesis moment that eventually led me to found Wonder. Understanding the complicated ways our minds make decisions allowed me to develop new approaches to make progress on other causes near and dear to my heart.”
Who is your intellectual crush?
“I heart Dr. Nadine Burke Harris because she’s an iconoclast: someone able to see something the rest of the world is missing. I met Nadine while leading a branding project for her new organization. A pediatrician working in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunter’s Point — where families struggle to make ends meet — she saw a common set of symptoms in kids: medical problems like asthma, diabetes, and obesity, and cognitive challenges like learning difficulties. She recognized that toxic stress — minds and bodies being overtaxed by repeated, intense or chronic stress — made it difficult for kids to sit still in school and, left untreated, could lead to heart disease, cancer, and other diseases in adulthood. She founded the Center for Youth Wellness to revolutionize pediatric medicine and transform the way that society responds to kids exposed to toxic stress.”
What are people surprised to learn about you?
“I always cry during angst-ridden father-son movies — Billy Elliot being one of my favorites. A father clashes with a son who challenges the father’s expectations — creating an emotional chasm that pushes the father and son apart. I suppose those movies are metaphors for the causes I’m drawn to help. One group has an expectation of what is right and appropriate and disapproves of another group. What I see in these movies, and what I have discovered in my work, is the possibility to recognize something authentic and beautiful in our differences while still embracing our common humanity.”
What’s your superpower?
“Finding the right storytelling formula. I love stories — movies, in particular — and find myself deconstructing them, trying to understand the choices the director made to elicit all the appropriate emotions. I use that skill and intuition to create social change: I’ve developed a sense of which elements elicit the right response, what the emotional entry point is, and what higher moral lesson is going to untie the conflict that prevents people from taking action.”
AUDIO: What inspires wonder in you?
Center for Youth Wellness
Open Society Foundations
Save the Redwoods League
Transgender Law Center