Gwinne Berexa, President of the Junior League of San Francisco, tells us what experiences have shaped her life, her rules for solving arguments and the inspiration she receives from former Junior Leaguer Eleanor Roosevelt.
What experience did most to shape your moral life? I was born and raised in Colombia, South America, so I lived and was exposed to the real third world. My parents acted privately on their own and through the public sector to try to address things like the homeless population, education and violence. As I got closer to being a young teenager, I wanted to choose my own thing to work on, so I chose to work with an orphanage. I realized how lucky I was, and that I had an obligation.
What one thing do you want the people in your life to take from you out into the world? Supporting others in any good endeavor. That ties to [the Junior League] theme this year, “Forward Together.” And that working hard is really, truly a pleasure.
Best way to solve arguments in personal life? I have rules for it, but I’m like everyone else and sometimes just want to scream at the top of my lungs. Don’t take things personally because they often aren’t. You don’t know what has set somebody off, but we tend to internalize everything. Next, pause for station identification. Just stop. Don’t react. If you need to walk away, you need some time, then go home and write down what was wrong. Next step: Do your venting. Do it on your e-mail, save it to draft and then go to sleep. Wake up the next morning and realize you were just crazy at that moment and hit delete. Then move onto the crucial conversations. Be honest, say ‘this is how I felt,’ so you don’t let it fester.
White lies? If yes, when? You don’t ever lie in a way that’s going to hurt somebody, but white lies ... they’re acceptable for purposes of supporting an emotional situation or a point when someone’s ego is weakened.
Some view the Junior League as this kind of white glove or hoity-toity organization. Why do you think that is and how do you respond to that impression? I cannot tell you how much I get that from my closest of friends. They still have this impression of who we were and it’s because 100 plus years ago, we were founded by a group of debutantes — the elites of New York City. However, debutantes didn’t ride trolley cars to tenements, but these women did. We need to do a better job of showing people our foundation.
What are the most inspiring words or book you may have read? No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. That’s from Eleanor Roosevelt.