Justice has so much to do with where we come from, our culture, our parents’ values, our money, our advantages and disadvantages. When Kirstin Gonzalez was 15, her sense of justice led to a decision to become vegetarian . She believes that any being should have a good life and choices in that life. That commitment to justice has been central in Kirstin’s life ever since.
Kirstin was very shy growing up. When she was a senior in high school, the Gulf War started and was discussed in her social studies class. Kirstin was one of the only students to advocate for peace and she remembers the challenge of being shy, but feeling the need to speak up. Ten years later, at a high school reunion, a classmate came up to her and said, “It was really meaningful to me that you stood up for peace in our world problems class. I wish I would have stood up with you.” This is one example of the ways Kirstin has lived out justice since her childhood: stubbornly committed to standing up for what is right and engaging in conversations about it.
When asked where this commitment to justice comes from, she responded, “half from me and half from my parents.” Kirstin added that though she didn’t watch much TV in junior high, she did watch “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which was all about living by a directive, a value and code that you always follow, even when you don’t know what to do. And she did the same thing—went out into the world and tried to do what was right. She has had a lot of difficult experiences and has grown hugely from them. She has waited tables, talked to all kinds of people (sometimes totally unprepared about what to say), and has worked as a teacher. She hopes that the things she has done that have been difficult have helped her be the person she needs to be to do something for the world.
Another focus of justice for Kirstin is her role as a mother. She has learned more than ever about how to relate to people as a mom, and it’s all about connection and listening. To her, there really isn’t any justice except for listening, empathy, and connection—no matter where we come from. All we have is this connection and listening. “With kids, it’s about letting someone take the steering wheel and being there with them—not trying to control them but letting them direct how they want to play.”
Another example of how justice is connected to listening comes from Kirstin’s experiences as a teacher. She remembers a conference with a mother who yelled at her as if she was the school system that was failing the student. Kirstin just listened because she knew the mom needed someone to hear how she experienced the injustices for her daughter in the school system.
Kirsten hopes that all parents can be listeners and model connection. “When we listen to people, especially kids, we give them their ability to change their lives. When we’re listening in our families, we all have what we need. It’s about learning the ways we get frustrated and how we deal with that. If parents really listen, it gives kids a way to get out of those cycles of disconnection, out of the usual boxes. We’re changing the world by listening.
If our kids are our future leaders, listening to them does change the world.”
When asked about the connection between faith and action, Kirstin talked again about listening. For her, spirituality is about connecting with God, being good, being human, and doing what’s right. Peace Church is a community that listens, connects, but does more than that. It’s also about helping others and trying to make the world a better place, connecting with other people who are peace-loving people. In the past, connecting to a community wasn’t as important as it is to Kirstin now. It’s that connection that feeds the spirit that draws her to community.
When asked who has inspired her sense of justice, Kirstin spoke of her dad. He has always done what’s important to him. Some people pushed him to have a very profitable business early on, but he wanted to have a small business making organs. She saw the courage it took to live by his own directive, doing the right thing the way he saw it. She’s also inspired by Bernie Sanders. He is pushed by so many forces in politics, yet he manages to still do what he thinks is the right thing. Kirstin, too, continues to seek to do the right thing, and reminds us that “we are changing the world by listening.”
Interviewed by Nathan Holst