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What Works vs. What Lasts: A Conversation with Bob Goff

By Tad Wisenor, '89

On a Sunday afternoon last May, five people gathered for a meal and conversation with Bob Goff, a bestselling author, the founder of Restore International, and Whitworth's 2015 commencement speaker. Goff's New York Times best-selling book Love Does encourages readers to live a lifestyle that fiercely seeks out ways of showing love. He also pioneers the vision for Restore International, a nonprofit human-rights organization he founded in 2003. When Goff speaks he commands a room, no matter the size, and this group of five was captivated, amused and challenged (as was the Spokane Arena audience at commencement a few hours later). Following are excerpts from that conversation.

On Trusting God
"So just trust that God's so big that He's got this thing. I just trust Him. I don't have this big faith, but I'm a very trusting guy. And I trust God, and He's got it. He isn't worried about all the stuff we're worried about. We spend so much time worrying about coming up with a backup plan that we never get to our purpose. You never just do your purpose, because you're so busy hedging all the bets."

On Making Room in Your Life
"Every Thursday I quit something. I was on a board of directors, and they're changing the whole world. They're great, but I called up and I quit. They asked, 'How come?' And I'm like, 'Because it's Thursday.' You don't need a reason – when you're a kid you didn't need a reason for everything. You didn't have to put spin on it, you just quit. So what I do is try to make a little bit of room in my life, just trusting that God will set terrific things and put people into it." 

On Words of Correction
"Instead of instructing people and correcting them, I literally charge myself $500 per word of correction. On your smartphone app, you can just transfer money to a bank account. If I'm tempted to straighten somebody out, I just say as much as I can afford. I want it to be important, because 500 bucks is a ticket to Maui. I think some of the things that we're saying to one another are costing us so much more in our relationships than we realize."

On Lifting Others Up
"Next to Disneyland, social media is the happiest place on earth for me. I'll try to find people who've failed, or people who've messed up in front of everybody. They've said something kind of untoward. Later I'll just say something to lift them up. Just pick something you like about them. And say, 'You have a strong voice.' That's beautiful. That's good! What if we just do that? Oh, it's so good! See, God's got all the rest. And people who've messed up don't need to be told they messed up. They just know it, right?"

On Trusting Those Who Have Failed
"For me [in high school], everything was shop. I had one English class. Everything else was shop. My wood-shop teacher, tragically, had only two fingers on his right hand. And so when he was showing us how to use the table saw on the first day of wood shop class, he said when you get close to the blade, you have to use a push stick. When he said to get the push stick, I trusted him because he had apparently failed, either once big or several times small. What if we trust people more when they fail, not less?"

On Traveling Often
"I flew two-million miles last year because I just run home every night. I live in San Diego; I've been working in Seattle for 28 years. And I bet I've spent four nights in Seattle in a quarter of a century. I just run home. It's great! And I just know everybody. It's old-home week at the airport. When we have a Christmas party I just go from counter to counter, starting at Alaska Airlines. I know everybody."

On Syncing Tracks
"What I'm trying to do is sync up who I say I am and who I actually am. Right? If we can get that part right, just like you got all these people, you have a public persona, but what if we're actually the same person thirty feet deep? And so, if we could sync up the video and the audio track, that would help, too. So, sometimes we have this track of what's actually happening in our life, and then the audio track is saying something different. And sometimes to the negative. Like, we're saying all these mean things about ourselves, 'You're a loser, you're this, and you're that.' And that is not Jesus doing the speaking. I mean, he is not an accuser. He isn't that. But, he's this beautiful person, not blowing sunshine at you, but he speaks words of truth. And I would just check your audio track and see if those are the words Jesus used to say to people around him when they failed. Oh, like with Peter, he didn't go, 'Peter you're such a wuss! What do you mean you don't know me?' No, he said, 'Peter, you're a rock.' Because he saw who he was turning into. So if we just did that for people, wouldn't it be great?" 

On Playing Your Song
"Have you ever gone to a concert where somebody is playing guitar and they're about to start their song and they start tuning the guitar? And they pause a little bit, and they play another chord and they're like 'Nah,' and they're tuning it, and after a little bit of that, you're like, 'Dude. That's enough. Play the song.' I think there are a lot of people tuning their guitars, because they're afraid they'll fail. If you aren't afraid of failure, you should probably just play your song. If it's a little out of tune it'll sound just like you. Nobody has to have perfect pitch. That's the message of the gospel. God has perfect pitch, none of the rest of us do."

On What Works vs. What Lasts
I've had all kinds of great ideas that didn't work. I've had a bunch of stupid ideas that did work. So that's not the dashboard of metrics I'm following. Remember pet rocks? Those worked! But then everybody figured out it's a rock in a box for 20 bucks. So while it worked, it didn't last. I've done so many things in my life that have worked, but I've just done a few that will last. So I have to ask, is this going to last or is it just another thing on the pile that worked?" 

On Loving Your Neighbor
"So [let's] talk a little bit about just loving your neighbor. Not because it's a metaphor for something else, but it really means love your neighbor. So literally walk outside, look both directions, cross the street, and then just think, how can you do it? There's this guy that started this big restaurant chain across the U.S. And every week when it's garbage day, he takes out everybody's garbage in the neighborhood. He should be flying on a Gulfstream with what he does, but he takes people's garbage out and then puts it away. I love that guy. He just loves his neighbors well."

On Efficiency
"What if we just think of our things? Because I get it, we want to be efficient. But I don't know if the Gospel's efficient. As if Jesus coming and dying was very efficient. It could have been just a letter, but that didn't work. [Recruiting the disciples] wasn't very efficient. Mrs. Peter was like, "You're what?! With whom?! And where are you sleeping?!" So what if we're just more and more inefficient in the way that we love people?"

On Where Goff Goes to Church
"People ask me all the time, 'Where do you go to church?' And I say, 'Our church.' I'm claiming dibs on all of them. Some of them wear robes, and some of them are waving their arms, and some of them are quiet, and some of them are loud, and some play the banjo, and some play the harp. That's our church. So I'm just claiming all of them. Wouldn't that just be an awesome thing to quit on Thursday? Everybody change your names. All the churches. Just take it all down, and just change it to 'Ours.' And so when people ask you where you go to church, you'd be like, 'Ours.' And they'd be like, 'You, too?' There'd be something really beautiful about that."