DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Everyone but me

Written by: on May 16, 2019

Following the rules is my thing. I am apparently custom built to be a rule follower. I cannot grasp the fullness of the saying, “rules are made to be broken.” I certainly understand what is being said, but I just cannot grasp why anyone would believe such a thing. Along with this comes the distaste for people who feel, or act, as if they are the exception to the rules. Few things bother me as much as when someone says something to the effect of, “Oh that’s just Don. He does it his own way.” No! There is a way to do things and not doing it is breaking the rules. It drives me crazy every time, except for when I want the exception to cover me.

In Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s book The Coddling of the American Mind they argue that the increase in the sense of fragility among people, and particularly college students, is creating an environment that is preventing people from engaging the world fully. This in turn is preventing them from getting a full educational experience. They lean on what they call the 3 Great Untruths, which are:

  • Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker
  • Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings
  • Us Vs. Them: Life is a battle between good and bad people 1

Each of these untruths prevents people from a full exploration of life.

Thankfully, Lukianoff and Haidt do not put the blame on the students themselves, but rather on their parents and teachers who have taught them the three great truths. And as such it is on the shoulders of the leaders of this generation to help them walk away from the untruths.

One of the means to overcoming the untruths is empathy2 which is a type of emotional hospitality. Making space for another’s thoughts and feelings allows us to come to understand them better. This greater understanding allows us to interact in honest ways with them. There is a certain amount of hostility in obeying the untruths. This hostility kills off any chance of growth or unity. It is also a type of aloofness that says the discomfort of an opposing view is below the claimant. In hospitality we take the lower place, which makes no discomfort below us.

On the other hand, hospitality also takes seriously someone when they say that something is triggering them and does not try to exacerbate the issue. For people who have undergone trauma, there are real concerns that need to be considered and hospitality welcomes and protects them. That is not to say that in the case of someone that is acting irrationally that they are not lovingly corrected once the moment is passed.

As leaders we need to be able to parse the moment and act in hospitality no matter what the result of the other person’s response. Whether we call it empathy or hospitality the end result is the same, allowing someone a chance to be honest about their feelings while still being able to speak honestly to them about the situation.

I think that ultimately my rule issue comes down to a lack of empathy for the person for whom the exception is being given. I am not looking at the situation in the best possible light. Maybe we – I – need to be more willing to look at situations more positively and perhaps that witness will help to change hearts and minds.

1. Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure. New York City: Penguin Press, 2018. 4.

2. ibid 51.

About the Author


Sean Dean

An expat of the great state of Maine where the lobster is cheap and the winters are brutal I've settled in as a web developer in Tacoma, Washington. As a foster-adoptive parent of 3 beautiful boys, I have deep questions about the American church's response to the public health crisis that is our foster system.

6 responses to “Everyone but me”

  1. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Ahh rules. So useful in sports and so minimally useful when trying to teach people English grammar. Your thoughts on empathy and hospitality remind me of what I understand to be the fundamental purpose of them (and why I am fairly open to breaking them…I know…how are you my friend?!). Rules at their best, are meant to protect relationships. So what we might remember is the relationships are the priority rather than the rules. Rules that protect people to share their thoughts should allow for relationships to form through discussion and disclosure. So what do we do with this shift towards online relationships (broadly, not just the dating kind) which seem increasingly to be a shadow of what relationships are meant to look like? How do we reach out to an entire generation that leans on these ‘shadow relationships’ rather than face to face ones? Can hospitality be extended online, when it initially was about making room in your own home for someone else’s survival? (I’m thinking OT for that.) If hospitality isn’t inconvenient and empathy not costly, do they still embody enough of what they once were to do their proper work in us and others? (p.s. if you want to reaffirm our friendship, best to watch me insist on rule enforcement while watching a rugby match)

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      For the record I consider my rigidness on rules to be a bug and not a feature. Without some flexibility it is impossible to live in relationship. Online relationships need extra flexibility in that tone is hard (if not impossible) to indicate online. The addition of emoji characters has, strangely enough, helped to indicate tone better. Because of this difficulty empathy or hospitality needs to be applied in an even greater amount. Reading things with in the best possible light of the text rather than as antagonizing is a requirement for online relationships -of any sort – to survive. Still, that makes it hard to have difficult conversations. It’s a rabbit hole, that I think will end up with people having face to face relationships – whether that face is on a screen or physically in front of you – because I’m not sure how real relationships can survive the impersonal nature of text. There is some indication of this actually being the case as Generation Zed (or iGen as our book calls them) are more in favor of in person interactions. At present this is seen in their favoring brick-and-mortar stores, but I think it will extend to relationships as well. I guess we’ll see.

  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    No wonder Glo likes you so much! Perhaps you also are of German heritage (although this logic falls apart applied to me!) You stated, “As leaders we need to be able to parse the moment and act in hospitality no matter what the result of the other person’s response. Whether we call it empathy or hospitality the end result is the same, allowing someone a chance to be honest about their feelings while still being able to speak honestly to them about the situation.” Wow, for me this is the money statement. “Parsing the moment”, “act in hospitality no matter what”, and “allowing the other to be honest about their feelings while speaking to them honestly about their actions.” I want to remember and chew on these. I see these insights as very helpful to coaching others from their “being stuck” towards their “accomplishing their goals.” Thanks again for such sage admonitions!

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      My French and English sides are being triggered by you associating me with Germany. This blog is supposed to be a safe space. Why would you ever use such hate speech here!? Oh wait… No, my rigidness was born out of two marines – my English/Scottish/Irish father and my French Canadian mother – that didn’t take well to me breaking the chain of command.

      Kidding aside, parsing the moment or discernment is perhaps the most important aspect of relationship. It is only in deciphering what is happening that we are able to act.

  3. Andrea Lathrop says:

    I love this, Sean. Your definition of empathy and hospitality is helpful. Growing up in the US and having a mentality of “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps” sure does clash a bit with empathy. I found out yesterday that our county is about to receive 500 illegal immigrants a week to help relieve the border crises. It has been interesting to listen to the conversations and a few responses already. There is talk of ‘tent communities’ because we are not prepared. Different theories – it is a slap in Trump’s face to place them in the backyard of his getaway home or a slap in his opponent’s faces as they have been so lax on this issue and our county voted Democrat. Either way, what is the Christian response? What does hospitality and empathy look like? How does our commitment to Christ lead more/first than our political affiliations? These are questions a bit off subject but your thoughts raised them and I was helped by your writing. Thank you.

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      We had a guest preacher at church today and I think his thesis will help. He was talking about non-violence resistance in during the civil rights era. He asked someone that was part of it in the 60s if they thought that non-violence as a tactic had worked. They rebuked him and said the only way to create the racial peace they sought was to be that very same peace. Non-violence wasn’t a tactic it was a way of being. I think hospitality is the same way, you have to become hospitable to see the hospitable world you want to see come about. Whether it’s welcoming immigrants or helping people leaving prison or homelessness, to see the world they represent be healed we must first become the healing the world needs.

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