An Intimate Endeavor

My wife and I took our only daughter to college this past Saturday. It is worth noting that we’ve done this 3 times before with sons. This time it was different for me. I love the boys, but I did not have the same emotions about them leaving as I did with my only daughter. It was a sad and, at the same time, joyful day. I managed to hold it together for most of the day, but I was a mess when we said goodbye.

We are an OSU Cowboys family. My parents went to OSU, Rebecca and I went to OSU (I went to preschool there, as well as getting my BS degree) and all our kids have gone there until now. My daughter had planned to go to OSU also. She was accepted, in the honors college, had a scholarship, had signed up for housing and was learning about her soon-to-be roommates, and was one night away from going up to Stillwater to get her classes and schedule. Then things changed.

She came home that night and told us God was leading her in a different direction. She believed she was being called into student ministry. OSU was no longer a great option for her. She applied to OBU on Wednesday, got accepted on Thursday and was awarded an academic scholarship, then arranged to visit and tour the campus on Friday. It was during our visit that something happened I want to talk about.

We had the opportunity to speak with David Whitlock, the President of the University. He was very generous with his time and got to know our daughter a little, as well as told her why he thought OBU would be a great fit for her. Toward the end of our time he said something that I have thought about a lot since.

He said, “Getting an education is a very intimate endeavor. You are opening your mind and heart and letting other people pour their thoughts and beliefs into you. You should be careful who you allow to do that.”

I can’t stop thinking about that.

It is not just education that is intimate. For various reasons and to differing degrees we let quite a lot of people pour things into our heads and hearts. How careful am I being with that intimacy?

If I am not careful and intentional I end up letting people tell me who I am, what is important, what my value is, and what I should do. It would seem obvious that I should just ignore this noise and live my life. Be myself.

The problem is that my personal “self” is born in social interactions. I become who I am through my relationships. We are going to let people into our heads and hearts. The only option left is to be careful about who those people are. This is where it gets a little more difficult. Research shows that after a relatively short period of bonding and social interaction with a group, we become highly likely to adjust our perception of reality to match the group’s perception.

Not only can social pressure cause people to change their picture of reality, but those who resist it become emotionally upset. Fitting in feels good, even at the expense of our otherwise good sense—and we pay an emotional price for following the courage of our convictions.

We become like the people we spend time with, because it is easier. So, I shouldn’t have an expectation of being able to avoid letting someone impact my mind and heart if I spend much time or share many experiences with them.

This power of the group can be positive. In the case of my daughter, as sad as I am that she is not currently living in our house, I am confident that the social pressure she will experience at OBU is good. She will mostly have people encouraging her to pursue her calling, love God and serve others.

The power of the group can be devastating too. Like a nation that ended up killing millions of people because they were different. Like classmates who convince a fellow student he/she is worthless and will never fit in. Like the ever shifting “consensus” about what is right or wrong.

We spend a lot of time together at Kimray. We are going to be influenced by the prevailing social and ethical presence. We should harness this to achieve our mission of making a difference. We must be intentional about transmitting our core values and culture. We must look for people who have unique perspectives but are not in direct opposition to the nature of our community. When someone joins us, we can influence them toward our common goals, but if they resist being in harmony with the rest of the community we should be quick to help them find another place.

We can also use our influence as a group in the broader community. We can be a catalyst for positive change in the organizations and companies where we have relationships. The key is having a solid foundation in our own community and spending more time with people that reinforce the things we want to be true about us than with people who don’t.

Relationships are the foundation of self. I need to choose the people I do life with well, because they represent what I will become. I am grateful that at Kimray I have a large family of great people to interact with. I would be blessed to be influenced and changed by any one of you because, after all, life is an intimate endeavor.