Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Motivational Speaker

Ever sat through a motivational speaker who just didn't do it for you? That was me last week. The problem isn't so much that I wasn't motivated... it was that everyone else around me seemed to be buying into it, and I wasn't.

Disclaimer (for those of you who were there and may read my blog): I would like to make it clear, I fully respect and am not disparaging the people who liked the talk, nor am I disparaging the speaker himself, but I don't agree with much that he had to say.

Full disclosure here: I'm honestly one of the MOST cynical and judgmental audience members that you will ever come across. I hate being told what to do by someone who doesn't know me. I've always ascribed to the view that there is not one quick "fix-it" for all people, except to point them to God, and I admit- even THAT looks very different for all people. So when someone gets up in front of me and tells me, "You need to start thinking in this way," I immediately think "NO, YOU BIG STUPID HEAD!" (Hey, no one said I was mature in my thinking)

Besides the obvious disagreements that I would have with someone whose one-stop-quick-fix-it plan does not really center on "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself," I felt my frustration growing at every suggestion he made. Here were some highlights.

  • "As a society, we need to invest in our youth! The youth is our future!"-- Michelle Tanner, you wanna take this one for me?
  • Paraphrase: The solution to all our problems is getting kids to play outside. I sent my kids to an outdoors camp that focused on nature, leadership, maturity, and I never had to check my kids grades again. -- I'm still not sure how those things all run together.
  • "You've got your soil... that's nature, the basis for everything... then you've got water, and that provides the life into nature, it allows things to grow. Then there's sunshine... that's where you come in, you can control sunshine and figure out where it shines." -- Last I checked, I don't control the sun. I think the analogy was that we can choose to focus on kids who are acting mature, but I'm not sure... primarily because of the next point I'm going to touch on.
  • Many people who attended this meeting would probably bemoan that I missed the point entirely, or that I wasn't listening. They're probably right. That's mostly because my brain locked up when I heard this: "I've read all the great thinkers, and every single one of them says that when you stop thinking about yourself, you start being successful in life. That's what I'm here to tell you."

    Let's look at that again... All of the great thinkers say "Don't think about yourself," but listen to ME because I've read all of them and have figured it all out and can fit it into this 25 minute presentation!!!

  • And that wouldn't be too bad if he didn't immediately move into "The truth is inside you... only you can know what that truth is." -- So ignore those thinkers I was telling you about, and ignore me, because only YOU have the answers!
Now, I'm 23 years old. I can get a pretty big head about me sometimes, and a lot of times I think I have answers to all of life's questions. But I think the fact that I admit that I can, at times, have that pride should show that I have enough sense to know I don't have it all figured out. I know that not everyone believes the same things I do, but I don't make anyone listen to what I say without first finding a place in the Bible to back it up. If you don't believe in the Bible, you're not going to agree with my hard-line stances. But whenever anyone says to "look within yourself" you need to be VERY careful about listening to anything that person tells you.

Bottom line: If you get to look within yourself, that means I also get to look within myself. If what is within myself doesn't jive with what's within yourself then we're going to have a problem... in which case neither one of us has authority to prove anything because we're looking within ourselves.

That's why I rely on the Bible. I'm not going to let anyone read this and think that I'm perfect and follow everything that the Bible says 100% of the time (in addition to listening to anyone who says that you should look within yourself for answers to life, you should also be wary of people who claim they're perfect). I screw up just like anyone else-- but if you want to know where I stand on an issue, or why I have that stance, don't be surprised when I flip open the Bible to answer that question. The Bible has been around for a good 1900 years by now... 1600 of those it has been canonized and in its current order. In my opinion, that's a whole lot better than "Well, I just decided that this is what's right for me, and you can decide what's right for you... unless I happen to disagree with the conclusion you draw from inside yourself."

This is probably best illustrated by a conversation I witnessed at Penn State. But first, a little background. Gary Cattell, aka "The Willard Preacher," faithfully stands outside of the Willard Building beginning at Noon on every class day and preaches God's Word to the students at Penn State. I disagree with some of his viewpoints and some of his methods, however, what I do not disagree with is his genuine care for the students at Penn State. I'll also say this... don't expect compromises with Gary... it's his way or the highway. We've had our disagreements over the years (as recently as last week), but we still like each other and I respect him (fairly certain he respects me too).

One day Gary and some Penn State students were talking just outside of the Willard Building. The topic was something along the lines of "Why do you think you're right Mister Preacher Man?" Gary had one question for the students who asked that, "From where do you draw your moral authority?"

"Society!" one of the students answered.

"So you think society is always right... no matter the issue, you'll always agree with society?"

"Well no, sometimes society is wrong," the student replied.

"How do you know when society is wrong?"

"The majority of people will know when society is wrong and will rebel against society."

"Ohhh, so the majority is always right," said Gary.

"Well, no, not always."

Gary looked at the student, "So if society isn't always right... and the majority isn't always right... how do you know you're right?"

"Well you just know it... there's something inside of you that says, 'This is the right thing to do.'"

"Ah ok. So if you are your moral authority, then I guess I'm MY moral authority... and if I feel that it's right to rape four year olds, then I guess that's nothing that you or anyone else would have a problem with."

"Of course I'd have a problem with that!"

"Why?" asked Gary.

"Because that goes against society!"

"Oh, so you draw your moral authority from society? So society is always right?"

I'll spare you the rest of the conversation because I swear it repeated about three times without the kid realizing that he lost the logic battle.

There are good approaches that argue for morality outside of the Bible. Greg Epstein's Good Without God: What a Billion Non-religious People Do Believe is one of them. I've not read much by him, but I've heard that John Loftus also makes a compelling argument. That being said, I think most people would agree that some degree of consistency is necessary when dealing with issues such as these.

I'm of the opinion that if you believe in something strongly enough, you should be able to tell me exactly why you believe it, and you should be able to argue for it. Note that I said argue FOR your viewpoint... don't tell me why you DON'T believe in something else as proof for your own beliefs. And there's hope for people out there who don't know why they believe what they do... just don't argue.

So there's some advice to you. I'm not saying that your speech should be restricted, but that you should truly and honestly figure out WHAT you believe and WHY you believe it before you start to spout off motivational mantras. I love to debate, discuss, inquire, but I think back to a quote that my dad had on his facebook a while back and I think it's an appropriate way to wrap this up:

"Nothing is as frustrating as arguing with someone who knows what they're talking about"

and my addendum: "Also, it's very frustrating having to sit through a speech by someone who doesn't know what they're talking about, and you don't even get to argue!"

Special thanks to Elise O'Loughlin for making sure that I sound at least somewhat rational. All grammar errors are mine and mine alone.