Home > President Emeritus Robinson >
Whitworth College Fall 2001 Convocation Address
Sept. 5, 2001
"The Unified Person and Civil Discourse"
James 3:9-12, 17,
My remarks today have been stimulated by a wonderful grant we have received
from the Murdock Charitable Trust - "Preparing for Lives of Commitment:
Connecting Beliefs and Behavior During the College Years." I hope
you get a clear picture of what we are trying to do with this project.
My speech has also been influenced by my hope that this will be a year
in which our conversations are grace-filled and respectful. In some ways,
they are two different speeches, but the James passage just read brings
Forgive me for clinging to a written text. This is my second of three
speeches today. Somehow the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and Whitworth's
Opening Convocation were both scheduled for today. As board chair of the
former and president of the latter, I ended up with three speeches.
So, today I'm going to speak about how our "selves" unify,
then say a word about civil discourse.
One of the most basic questions in the history of learning is this:
Which is more powerful - the world around us,
or the world inside of us? In other words, do we make sense of
our world from inside out or from outside in question?
This big question cuts across all disciplines, but it is a huge issue
when it comes to what we know and how we behave. So it is not surprising
that entire schools of thought have been built on the inside out vs. outside
in debate in philosophy and psychology,
In philosophy the argument was most hotly contested in the 17th and 18th
centuries, although it started in the middle of the 4th Century B.C. The
inside out camp peaked when 17th century French philosophers, led by Rene'
Descartes, argued for rationalism, the
belief that humans have innate ideas that they bring to their outer worlds.
Although this inside out approach raged during the 17th century, all rationalists
would point to Plato as the granddaddy of rationalism, and a veritable
god in the eyes of Forrest Baird.
Ironically, or perhaps predictably, the Brits responded to French rationalism
by banging the drum for empiricism, the
belief that humans gain all their knowledge by observing the world around
them. The British charge was led by David Hume and John Locke, but all
empiricists would point to no less than Aristotle, Plato's pupil, as their
founding father. And on Aristotle's side you can find heavyweights such
as Leonard Oakland brandishing the sword of empiricism.
Psychology, being a younger field than philosophy, saw the inside out
vs. outside in debate rage in the 20th Century. Scholars such as John
Watson and B.F. Skinner argued forcefully that behavior is learned from
outside in. But Freud's psychoanalytic theory, the humanism of Maslow
and Rogers, and recent scholars arguing for biological explanations of
behavior all make strong cases for behavior coming from inside out.
The big question of internal vs. external also shows up in Scripture.
The first verse of the entire Psalms tells us to put ourselves in the
right environment. But Paul writes to the church in Rome that mainly they
need to obey what God has written inside of them on their hearts and minds.
Even at the faculty retreat last week, the inside out vs. outside in
question surfaced. We were asking ourselves the question of how to be
more creative. First, we talked about digging deep within ourselves, peeling
off the layers of conventions and habits and learning from the inner world
of our own individuality. Then we watched a video in which a photographer
demonstrated ways of looking and looking and looking at the outer world
until a new and meaningful picture came into view.
The inside out vs. outside in question was argued in Plato's Academy
2000 years ago, and has been argued ever since, but still no definitive
answer has surfaced - UNTIL NOW. Just kidding.
But in the next few minutes I'm going to give you eight principles for
dealing with the big issue of outside in vs. inside
out. These principles will explain what we're trying to do with
the Murdock Grant, they will make your life better, and you might win
the lottery - or not.
- What you know and how you behave are influenced by both the environment outside of you and the biological and spiritual DNA
inside of you. It is safe to assume that either/or questions that
can't be answered in a couple thousand years of trying have no either/or
answer. Invariably, the best answers to these questions fall into the
"both/and" category. In theology, for example, God's sovereignty
vs. human responsibility has been posed for centuries as an either/or
question. Great theologians still disagree, so you can argue this in
your dorm room, but don't get your hopes up for an either/or answer.
Somehow, both God's sovereignty and human responsibility influence the course of events. Similarly, BOTH
your inner self and your outer world
combine to produce knowledge and behavior.
- Discrepancies between your inner self and your outer world produce
tension. As the discrepancy grows, so will the tension. It is likely
that tonight many of you will feel this tension. The outer world environment
in your residence hall will supply you with a "let's be social"
message, while your inner self will be screaming, "study, dude."
- Your natural impulse will be to reduce the tension. In 1946,
Fritz Heider published a paper entitled, "Attitudes and Cognitive
Organization." It was the first scholarly work to argue that the
human tendency is to strive for consistency or balance in our thinking.
We don't like living with the tension of inconsistent beliefs. Hundreds
of studies since Heider's have supported his claim, and further research
has also demonstrated the human drive to reduce inconsistencies between
beliefs and behaviors.
- You usually choose one of three very basic options for reducing
the tension created by inconsistencies between your inner self and your
outer world. 1. You can change your environment. 2.You can change
your inner beliefs. 3. You can deceive yourself. Using the example of
the tension you're likely to feel tonight, you could change your environment
and go to the library, or you could change
your inner beliefs arguing that that by studying this early in the term
you would be taking your first step toward workaholism, and that could
lead to addiction, or you could deceive
yourself into pretend studying and make a study run to Shari's.
- In general, it takes more work and discipline to change your behavior
or your environment than to change your mind. For example, it's
Sunday morning; the alarm goes off - certain tension. Your environment
is saying "rollover, sleeeep." Your inner self is saying,
"chuuuuurrrrch." Soon you find yourself asking the question,
"did I or did not catch myself worshipping in Dr. Graham's Christian
Doctrine class at this very moment two days ago?" "That counts."
Snorrr. In other word's, the phrase, "humans are rational animals"
should be replaced by "humans are rationalizing animals. We are
adaptive beings, and our inner self will often silently adjust itself
to fit our environment.
- Tension also occurs when we get a mixed message from our inner
self. I recall right before coming to Whitworth an incident at O'Hare
airport in Chicago in which one inner voice was cooing, "be a good
Christian." The other inner voice was screaming "don't be
a sucker." A young man had approached me about needing to borrow
$20.00 to get transportation home, blah blah blah. Both inner voices
were arguing as I stood there. No doubt, I had tension.
- The tension that results from mixed inner messages can be reduced
by organizing our inner selves into a hierarchy of beliefs. In the
O'Hare airport situation, the "be a good Christian" voice
won. And I'm still waiting for the guy to send the $20.00. But I thought
there was a chance that this person was telling the truth, and once
I reached that conclusion, I knew that my Good Samaritan belief was
stronger than my "be careful not to lose a few bucks" belief.
- As your inner self develops and matures, better life choices will
be made from inside out than from outside in. Convictions serve
us as the inner voices we must obey. Convictions sit atop the belief
hierarchy. Convictions refer to our deepest beliefs about the world
and how we should live in it. To this point I've referred to episodes
and incidents that are pretty harmless, but when we allow our culture
or our environment to contaminate any of our basic convictions, we can
be putting our lives in jeopardy. Some 18 or so years ago, I was right
there. Subtly, almost subliminally, I had dethroned some of my strongest
convictions from the top of the hierarchy. At the time, we lived in
a neighborhood on the north shore of Chicago that was very affluent
and very materialistic. Pleasure and success dominated that subculture,
and for most folks, all else took a backseat. Occasionally, I would
catch myself changing or deceiving my inner self. When this happened,
I would feel the tension and try to restore my convictions, but they
were in such conflict with my environment. Several times, out of desperation,
I approached Bonnie about moving to Wisconsin and living off the land.
After she reminded me that I didn't know which end of a shovel is the
digging end, I would plunge back into the tension and slowly resolve
it by letting my inner self deteriorate.
Somehow during those tense years, God's love proved to be a tether that
would keep me from self-destruction until on the morning of February 20,
1984 I realized I had to put my convictions back in charge of my life.
That morning, sitting on the corner of my bed, I heard Good Morning America's
David Hartman interview Yakima native, Phil Mahre. One day earlier Phil
had won the Gold medal in the Olympic slalom in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.
It was a big story, in that his twin brother took the silver medal, and
the two of them, going into the Olympics, were ranked 62nd and 45th in
the world. America was going nuts over the Mahre twins. At the end of
the interview, David Hartman mentioned to Phil that this was all made
really special by the news that two days earlier Phil's wife, Holly, had
given birth to their second child. To that comment Phil Mahre responded
soberly, "ya, the baby came early. I would have never come over here
had I thought that might happen. A gold medal certainly isn't as good
as being with your wife and seeing the birth of your child." I turned
off the TV and cried. While most of America heard Phil Mahre, I heard
a cock crow. I had betrayed my most basic convictions. I was changing
my inner self in order to reduce the tension created by an environment
that was hostile to person I believed God wanted me to be. That day, with
no fanfare or New Year's resolutions, I began the slow, hard work of restoring
the commitments that I had demoted in order to reduce the tension with
my outer world.
The essence of the Murdock grant and the hope of this college is to help
you build lives in which your most important decisions flow from your
deepest convictions. And the time to start is now. Ask yourselves, "Is
my life consistent with my deep convictions about this world and my role
in it?" And I'll tell you why this question is so important. Hear
this. Whether you live your life from inside out or from outside in, over
time, your life will become consistent
with your convictions about this world. You will not live your life in
tension. Both before I heard Phil Mahre and after I heard Phil Mahre,
I was in the process of reducing the tension between my beliefs and my
behavior. Before that day in February of 1984, I reduced tension by silencing
my convictions; after that day I reduced tension by changing the way I
lived my life. And I promise you that the right way to reduce the tension
is by being faithful to what you believe. But I'm warning you that you
will not go long living in defiance of your convictions. Either your behavior
or your beliefs will change.
You will not go long carrying the conviction that it is your responsibility
to help the poor, while doing nothing to help the poor. You will change
your behavior, or you will change your mind, or you will deceive yourself
into believing that there's really nothing you can do.
You will not go long carrying the conviction that it is your responsibility
to stand against racism and sexism, while you look away from unjust glass
ceilings that you could be challenging. You will change your behavior,
or you will change your convictions, or you will you will convince yourself
that the glass ceilings do not exist.
You will not go long carrying the conviction that sexual relations should
be confined to the marriage relationship while you deepen your sexual
activity outside of marriage. You will bring your behavior in line with
your conviction, or you will change your conviction to fit your behavior,
or you will convince yourself that your behavior isn't so bad.
And finally, a word about civil discourse. You will not go long carrying
the James 3 conviction that it is wrong to bless God and condemn those
made in God's image if you are being mean-spirited in your treatment of
others. You will stop condemning others, or you will change your belief
that the Bible is true in this teaching, or you will convince yourself
that James was referring only to those who don't deserve your condemnation.
There are many great principles and rules for constructive, healthy disagreements.
But I want to leave you with only one. Back to Fritz Heider. Two years
before he published his 1946 paper he published an article entitled, "Social
Perception and Phenomenal Causality." In this paper he observed that
we make attributions about people's motives in biased ways. We tend to
protect our own views of people and issues when we assign motives. This
protection shows up even in our language. I've noticed that students use
the phrase, "She gave me a 'C' in history" and in the next sentence
say, "but I got an 'A' in math. Biased attributions of motives are
really bad at sporting events. Sports fans are the smartest people in
the world. Without asking any questions and never having met the referees
or the opponents, sports fans can tell you exactly why referees made their
call, why the pitchers throw high and inside, and the motivation behind
every act in every contest. And furthermore, should you say to a sports
fan, "how do you know?" you will discover you are stupid because
their reply is, "it's obvious." So hope for civil discourse
this year is this: if you wish to declare peoples'
motives, don't pretend you're Karnac, just ask them why they do, say,
or think what they do, say or think. And if that is impossible, show grace
in your attributions.
At this point I'm not sure exactly what I
said, except for something close to the following. "I
hope in all of your discussions you will be filled with grace. This is
a very diverse community we have gathered at Whitworth College. Some of
you have come with an excitement about the chance to drink from the fountain
of our rich spiritual resources. Others of you have come to Whitworth
to drink from our fountain of rich intellectual resources, and have no
particular interest in our faith perspective. I hope Whitworth will be
a great experience for both groups. And I would say to those of you who
are Christians what I said to the student leaders last Tuesday night.
'It is my belief that everyone needs Christ. But the best way to proclaim
the gospel is by showing how much we need Christ rather
than telling others how much they need Christ.' I'm not
sure where I read this, but I am sure this is true."
Well, students, I wish for you lives of consistency and grace. I hope
Whitworth teaches you to hate pride, injustice and all sins. But I also
hope Whitworth shows you how to see your brothers and sisters always through
the eyes of love and grace. Live lives of commitment. Start those lives
today. Have a great year. God bless you.