By Edward M. Marshall, Ph.D. This article was first published in Shen in 2005. Maria Gomori is teaching Journey to Self and Family Reconstruction at The Haven this summer and celebrating her 90th birthday with us on August 28.
I had never met her before. In fact, until last week, I did not even know who she was. But by the end of the week, my whole view about transforming organizations and interpersonal relationships was changed forever because of her.
Her name is Maria Gomori, an 85-year-old icon of the marriage and family therapy community, a colleague of Virginia Satir’s, a refugee from the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, and a teacher of thousands in the United States, Europe, Hong Kong and other countries in the Far East. She is truly a living treasure and a gift to us all, and she brings her lessons of courage to our relationships at work, at home, and in our communities.
We had all gathered at a university near Toronto to hold the annual conference of Avanta, which brought together family therapy and organizational development experts from around the world – people who practice Virginia Satir’s approach to transforming human relationships and organizations. When I first connected with Maria in a group experience, what I saw in her eyes was the depth and wisdom of a century. Here was a woman who knew about human suffering … and about human healing. It did not take long for me to appreciate how special she is.
Later in the conference, Maria took it upon herself to work on a very critical relationship within the organization, and to do so in front of her colleagues and friends. It was an extremely difficult situation. But her actions were ones of profound courage.
She had made a decision to face her own issues and to transcend them for the good of the relationship and the organization. For an hour I sat spellbound, watching Maria engage her colleague, tell her truth, and listen with respect to her colleague’s truth. I was struck by the enormity of what I was witnessing. Never before had I seen such courage, such faith in human nature, such ability to walk the talk. She didn’t just talk about resolving a deep difference; she just did it. And the result was one of healing and reconciliation.
That evening, when we all gathered to honour her 60 years of service to humankind in all the corners of the world, people came to sit by her and share their stories of transformation at work, at home, in their communities. I just knew that this was a special moment in history, it was a precious moment when the heart and the soul met the mind, as we expressed our deep respect for Maria and her gifts to us all.
The lessons Maria taught all her life seemed to be fully evident in just those few hours that we had to spend with her. The lessons were of courage.
The Courage to Face Our Fears: She had shown us what courage it took to face her fears, her past, her hurts, and whether it was even possible to come to terms with them all. She took it on, congruently, sit- ting upright, and opening herself to the possibility it might not work out. She had not taken the easy way out. She had taken the congruent way.
The Courage to Tell the Truth: Truth is an elusive thing, for one person’s truth may be another’s interpretation. But we all know when we are speaking our truth and it is authentic. Maria clearly knew how to do this. There was a sense of calm on her face as she spoke, and on our faces as well. It’s so hard to get to the place where we can speak our truth, but once there, we may wonder why it took us so long.
The Courage to Accept Others’ Truth: Equally difficult is hearing things we may not want to hear – but it is in their being heard that we are able to discover the other’s truth. Then, and only then can we begin to heal the wounds of that relationship. Maria listened with such intention and such caring, it was impossible not to know the truth.
The Courage to Persevere in the Face of Adversity: Maria’s life was one of significant adversity – from the Russian oppression of her native land, to the challenges of personal transformation in China. But through it all, it was clear she had had the courage to persevere. I could only surmise that it was her faith in herself and in the goodness of humankind that made it possible.
The most important lesson about courage that I learned from Maria is that we are all courageous – every one of us. Deep down inside of us there is a person of immense faith, and a belief that we also can face those fears, tell the truth, listen to others, and persevere even when it seems impossible.
I had never met her before. But by the time I left Maria Gomori’s presence, I had learned so much about why we are on this planet, in this struggle called work, and why we persevere so courageously in our relationships. And even today, I can still envision her eyes – filled with wisdom, and peace, and understanding. Thank you, Maria, for your gifts.