To celebrate the 50th episode, Tim and Rick reflect on previous episodes on the podcast and highlight ideas, practices and moments with guests that have left a lasting impression. In this episode, they discuss the argument culture; David French on the dangers of like-mindedness (Episode 5, Nov. 16, 2020); Julia Wood on navigating the complexities of movements and theories (Episode 16-17, beginning on April 12, 2021); and Gregg Ten Elshof on getting curious when it comes to shame (Episodes 39-41, beginning on Feb 28, 2022). This is part 1 of a 2-part conversation.
Tim Muehlhoff: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction podcast. I'm one of the co-hosts Tim Muehlhoff. I'm a professor of communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California, and I'm joined by my colleague and good friend, Dr. Rick Langer.
Rick Langer: Yes, indeed. Thanks Tim. And as Tim mentioned, I am a co-host with Tim and co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project. And I'm also professor here at Biola in the biblical studies and theology department, and the director of the office of faith and learning. So today is kind of a special episode. We may end up with two episodes of this, but this will be our 50th episode of the Winsome Conviction podcast. Isn't that cool?
Tim Muehlhoff: That's really cool.
Rick Langer: And I was chatting with David Turner. David, by the way, for all of those, he has been on the podcast before, but he's the guy who's always behind the scenes on our podcast and makes all these things happen. And he just mentioned this to me and we thought, oh, it'd be really fun to go back and not so much generate the greatest hits or something like that, of what happened in the podcast, but things that were saying, man, that was a moment for me to remember. That was something that was really valuable. That gave me an insight. That made me see things differently. So we thought let's do that. Let's just dedicate an episode to going back through and thinking about what's impacted us from the things we've heard from people.
Tim Muehlhoff: And it was really fun to do that. Like some, I had really forgotten. But here's the fun thing for the listeners to know, we've not shared our lists with each other. So this may be crazy redundant or this is going to be kind of fun. But Rick, let me start off by just saying this, do you remember episode one? Do you remember the topic?
Rick Langer: So I remember that we had in episode one, but then you qualified it with, do you remember the topic? And that's when I lost.
Tim Muehlhoff: So the topic was-
Rick Langer: ... Go ahead, Tim show off. Let it fly.
Tim Muehlhoff: ... Yes. Yes. The topic was, what do we most appreciate about Tim Muehlhoff. I thought it was a great-
Rick Langer: Oh. It was a short podcast.
Tim Muehlhoff: ... It was a short... It was our shortest podcast. It came in at about three minutes. That was kind of hurtful, because I was two of the three minutes. That really bothered me. No episode one, we kind of set the table. It was on the argument culture, which is Deborah Tannen's term. She's a Georgetown linguist, and she said, "Today we approach each other as adversaries. And we're not interested in learning. We view compromise, is seen as common ground, listening, taking the other person's perspective." And so we had this phrase that originated in episode one that I really liked a lot. It was humanizing thoughts lead to humanizing communication.
Rick Langer: Oh, wow.
Tim Muehlhoff: And that's been a theme, I hope of our episodes is that we need to humanize these issues with people. That these are real people. There may be debates, and sometimes as academics, we can just enter a debate and do it for the sake of debate. But we need to remember that people have feelings, they're living lives often more difficult than what we can even think of. So that one made me think very quickly of Preston Sprinkle, episode 14, where he talked about the LGBTQ community and he said, "These are real people that I know." And remember Preston mentioned that one trans person who wouldn't drink anything in the morning because they wanted to go through church service and not have to go to the bathroom to make anybody feel uncomfortable or they themselves feeling uncomfortable. Rick, that was like a drop the mic moment. And I had never even considered that, that a person would go to that length because they didn't want to put other people in a weird spot or put themselves in a weird spot. That was interesting. Humanizing thoughts lead to humanizing communication.
Rick Langer: Yeah. And actually that reminds me as well of the episode we talked about humanizing President Trump and Vice President Biden at the time, now President Biden, but and each just going back and forth saying some things that help us kind of humanize people who'd been kind of caricatured or viewed as too despicable to even humanize. So yeah, so that great point and I had forgotten all of that, so thank you.
Tim Muehlhoff: And you know what, let me tell you a funny thing about President Trump is, I wrote something for the Christian Scholars Review where I had written a lent devotional where I had simply said, "Listen, how do you think it feels if you're President Trump and Saturday night live via Alex Baldwin openly mocks you and makes fun of everything, your intelligence, your looks through Alex Baldwin's impersonation?" I just simply said, "Let's just stop for a second and think what that looks"... Rick, I had people write to Biola and withdraw from the lent devotional because I humanized President Trump. Think about that. Welcome to the argument culture, episode one.
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: Right?
Rick Langer: All right. Way to go.
Tim Muehlhoff: What do you have? What's on your list?
Rick Langer: All right. So one of our early podcast guests was David French and of course David French is the guy who's commented on a lot of things and there's many concerns that we kind of share in common with him. So anyway, he's a person that I appreciate and respect, but there were a couple of things that he said that I thought were really potent and have become in some ways even more relevant as the years or months have gone by for me. And let me just pair two things together.
One was, he talked about in effect the dangers of your in-group. And to put a name on it, the name that he gave was affective polarization. And that is that when you cluster batch of people in a group, the group doesn't just gravitate to the most polarized individual and kind of have that be how polarized the whole group becomes. The group actually moves beyond even the most polarized group. So the entire group ends up being more polarized than any individual member was to begin with. And it was like, "Oh wow." An incredible danger of this sense of what happens when we just get in an in group and we kind of hear each other.
And then you also, I think the interesting thing with that story was that French pointed out that what happens is you shut down the points of pushback that you yourself feel on certain arguments. You never agree with everything about a group, right? But because you have a group of like-minded people, you end up thinking anything I share that isn't like-minded will sacrifice my standing in the group. So all of the group discourse shifts even more polarized. And what you think is a good thing to have a place of belonging, actually ends up being a bad thing.
Tim Muehlhoff: And you know, what's funny about that, Rick is, as we talk about this, nobody thinks that's true of their group.
Rick Langer: That's right.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Well, I can see the liberals being down there.
Rick Langer: Yeah. Oh, yeah. That's it yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: Absolutely. But, well maybe your group? Oh no, no, no. We're, no. No, no, no.
Rick Langer: We're good.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. And I love the French interviews and just as you mentioned that, you know what I thought about is, remember he was saying, "Hey, don't think that we can't have another civil war in this country."
Rick Langer: Oh yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: And you, and I kind of laughed it off at the time, and then the insurrection happened at the Capitol, and we were like, "Oh my goodness." To me, that was a chilling moment of realizing what David French is being prophetic saying, "Guys, let's take this seriously." And I think after the storming of the Capitol and people losing their lives. That became a chilling reality that we need to take seriously and guard against with... Do you have episode numbers for that?
Rick Langer: You know what I can drum them up. We'll add those. We'll add those down there, but it would've been early in the fall of 2020. Let me pair one thing, another thing French said-
Tim Muehlhoff: Sure. Sure.
Rick Langer: ... with it, because it was so interesting. So the desire to have an in-group actually turns out to be dangerous. The other thing he talked about was political homelessness. And I have felt that I felt the political parties and affiliations I've had for four decades, I'm suddenly watching and hearing things that I'm suddenly feeling really uncomfortable with. And I've felt this sort of sense of political homelessness. Well, here's the interesting thing. He said, "In there, this absence of belonging is actually a good thing." Because he actually had a wonderful phrase.
This wasn't from what he said on the podcast, but another thing had written that I read on the podcast was he says, "We are aliens, exiles and sojourners, all terms that are identified people who by definition do not belong in the place that they are. We're ambassadors from a distant land. We'll one day return to our homeland, which is in heaven. In the meantime, we should expect to be hated because the world hated Jesus first and this world will know persecution. So our only hope ultimately as an ultimate hope, Jesus will come and overcome the world. And we might even expect that friendship with this world means [inaudible 00:09:16] of God. So if that's how we expect to fit into the outside world in general, why would we expect to fit any better within our political parties?-
Tim Muehlhoff: That's good.
Rick Langer: ... And I thought, wow, that's right. So my sense of homelessness in some sense is probably a proper sense of detachment from the core values of this world and saying, "Look, there're things that I love and value as a follower of Christ that don't map well onto the givens of our political train. So yes, feeling politically homeless, isn't the thing that you should be upset about, Rick, but probably a thing that you should embrace and say, yeah, that's kind of right."
Tim Muehlhoff: We are big fans of something called allsides.com. Really fun announcement, the creators of that are actually going to be on our podcast and kind of get the backstory of how that originated. But here's what I think is a benefit of the homelessness that I feel, Rick. As I go to allsides.com, what's cool about it is take an issue and they will present to you, now, of course, this is their interpretation of what the left the center and the right is.
So when I'm politically homeless, I now look at that and there're many times Rick, I read what I thought would be my position, which would be the right. And I go, "Well, I don't agree with that. I really don't agree with that." And then I read the left and I'm like, "You know, I'd change a few things, but I sort of kind of resonate with that." Now I most resonate with the center. That's the one that I gravitate towards. So I would just encourage all of you, go to allsides.com and just read left, right, center. And they're picking not only what they think represent those three camps, but the best writing of those three camps, which I think is awesome. So to me there's a little bit of sadness being homeless for sure. But there's a little bit of freedom now that I don't identify with the left and the right.
Rick Langer: Yeah. Don't have an identity that you can easily identify. Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. So I can kind of critique them a little bit. So I think that's interesting. Okay. So now I'm going to pick my favorite.
Rick Langer: All right.
Tim Muehlhoff: I just mentioned episode number one, because I thought that was kind of fun to go all the way-
Rick Langer: Oh, so that doesn't count on your list.
Tim Muehlhoff: ... It does not count.
Rick Langer: Oh, okay.
Tim Muehlhoff: That was me slipping one in.
Rick Langer: I see. Got it. Go ahead.
Tim Muehlhoff: I thought it was creative. Okay. For sure. Mine was episodes 16 and 17 because we brought on Dr. Julia T. Wood. We have a segment on our podcast called Coming Up To Speed On Issues. We had the Reverend James White Coming Up To Speed On Race, and we had Dr. Julia Wood Coming Up To Speed On Feminism. And your listeners know Dr. Wood is a friend of mine. We've been friends, oh my gosh, I don't know, 25 years. She was my master's thesis director and my dissertation director. She's the one who literally taught me how to write, Rick. I got to grad school, I didn't know how to write. And I wrote, my first paper, came back, there was red everywhere. Everywhere. And then the ominous words, "See me." So I remember walking in her office and she said, "You have some really good thoughts. You can't write." And I said, "Yes, ma'am." And she said, "Let's fix that." And she did. And I'm indebted to her.
Rick Langer: Wow. What a great model of teaching in that sense-
Tim Muehlhoff: Yes.
Rick Langer: ... where you're honest about, Hey, look, I just did an assessment that didn't cut it. So let me help.
Tim Muehlhoff: And you know, so here's some things I want to talk about from Julia as a person and then I want to tackle feminism real quick.
Rick Langer: Okay, great.
Tim Muehlhoff: As a person, she had this weird, wonderful way, even though she is one of... I mean, she's in the top 50 communication scholars of all time. She's in that rarefied era. She always made you feel like you were a peer, even though you weren't. My gosh, Rick, you were not a peer with Julia Wood, but she would invite you in. And here's what is so cool about Dr. Wood, she would listen. And then she would comment, "I need to think about that." That's a really good point. Let me think about that more. Now you could think that's a woman, an educator just using that line. The next time we'd go grab pizza at one of our favorite pizza places on Franklin Street, UNC Chapel Hill. She would say, "I was thinking about what you said and I kind of now think this, but I have another question for you." I was like, "Julia, for the last two weeks, you've been thinking about our conversa"... To me, that is amazingly-
Rick Langer: What a gift.
Tim Muehlhoff: ... empowering.
Rick Langer: Yeah. Validating and-
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh. And I just love it, that it wasn't a rhetorical trick, but she actually had spent time giving weight to my words. But here's what I most take away from those two episodes. Movements and theories are really complex things. And feminism, she did such a beautiful job introducing us to the three waves of feminism and the concerns of each wave. And I think for many listeners, and by the way, myself included, when I first got to UNC Chapel Hill, I didn't know anything about feminism. And then to learn the rich history of each of those waves and the sacrifices women made. Alice Paul going on a hunger strike in order to get women the vote.
I just didn't know the weight, the complexity of feminism, even as I agree and disagree with certain parts of the movement. And I just say this to say, that's got to be true of postmodernism. That's got to be true of critical race theory. That's got to be true of Black Lives Matter. Now we can disagree, but until we give it the weight and know the context and the history and the major players and the concerns that gave rise to the movement, then I don't think we're really wrestling as we should.
Rick Langer: ... Yeah. Let me pick up on that. Because that was one of the things that struck me about that episode as well. And sometimes particularly these academics, and we've actually talked about this a lot on our podcast, is that you have conflicts where people are using the same word, but with different definitions or meanings. And so you end up not really talking to each other. And sometimes you're saying this is just quibbling about a word, but you go, "Well, no, it is just a word, but you're using it differently and that's creating a real problem of communication." So we're talking about a communication problem. We're just saying the point is actually coming from the definition of a word.
Now here's the interesting thing with the feminism one. Realize it is partly a definition of feminism. What do you mean? Do you mean first wave feminism? Do you mean second wave? Do you mean third wave? What feminism or you're referring to? So there's that definitional element. But what was really interesting what Julia would and when she began talking about this, I was like, "Oh really, it isn't just quibbling about the definition of a word, but it's about an ignorance or an absence of knowledge about an entire history. So let me recount, 200 years of history that you probably haven't thought about that I'm not holding you... I'm not blaming you for not having thought about or not knowing I'm saying here it is. And let me tell you that story." Now you may have a different way to tell the story. We can have that discussion, but understand, this isn't a thin quibble about a definition of a word. It's about trying to triangulate on a broad historical movement and all that's gone into it. And I thought that was just super insightful to hear from her as she shared that.
Tim Muehlhoff: And then I just have to mention one last relational thing about Julia is, obviously come on, if you read any of her books, if you go read her bio, there are things that Rick and I are going to profoundly disagree. And there are some things that I profoundly disagreed with her in my master's and my PhD, all my time at UNC Chapel Hill. But Rick, we had a way of keeping the humor alive. If you go to our website winsomeconviction.com, I have an essay on G.K. Chesterton and his relationship with George Bernard Shaw, where after a debate, they'd go to the pub and just laugh and all that kind of stuff. So Julia and I even in the midst of our disagreement would just laugh. And listening to that podcast, you hear the laughter.
Like my first introduction to her, Rick, was she's lecturing in front of 200 students and she holds up a picture. Now I'm her TA. I'm one of eight. She does not really know me. We've had one meeting together with eight TAs. And she holds up a picture in front of 200 students of a male model in a black swimsuit. And this guy is cut, Rick. I mean his abdominal muscle spell mom. I mean, and she holds up and she goes, "Okay, when you look at that, what do you see?" And nobody's responding. It was the first class. So it got awkward. So I raised my hand. I'm in the front row and she looks at me, she goes, "Yes?" I go, "Frustration." She goes, "Frustration?" I said, "Yeah, I wanted to wear the white swimsuit." And she looked at me just for a moment. We made eye contact and it was like, "Are you an idiot, or is that really funny?" And Rick, she burst out laughing in front of the entire class. And to this day, she'll say to me, "Do you remember that day?" I said, "I do. I do."
So somehow G.K. Chesterton, Julia Wood, is it possible to keep the humor alive even in our disagreements? I suspect some listeners would say, but isn't that disrespecting the issue? Or you're not taking it serious. And I want to say, we got to let off the rhetorical steam somehow. We have to. And we got to find a way of going to the pub and laughing with even our most ardent critics.
Rick Langer: Okay. That's great. I guess we probably have time for one more and then it's-
Tim Muehlhoff: Yes. Let's do this more. We've got more.
Rick Langer: ... We'll do two, because I have way more things here than I'd love to talk about. Let me just do a quick one from our conversation with Gregg Ten Elshof.
Tim Muehlhoff: Our friend, Gregg.
Rick Langer: And I did, while you were chalking here, I did drum up the episode number, so you can find... It was ended up being a three part conversation, but it's episodes 39 through 41. But Gregg wrote a book on shame and there's a lot of interesting stuff. So I just, I encourage you to go back and listen to that one if you hadn't heard it, because we live in a culture that tends to think of shame as being intrinsically evil. Let me put it this way. Pop psychology, is shame as being enormously destructive emotion. We shouldn't feel it. It's a terrible thing because it kind of refers to a person as personal self worth and worthlessness about them. And no one's worthless, so no one should feel shame.
The weird thing is that if you check in with not pop psychology, but pop culture, with social media, social activism, it's like we have become the shaming culture. And so we are very active in shaming other people, and we think self righteously about that. That's a way that we exercise movement towards a better tomorrow is by shaming those who haven't got with the program, so to speak. So we have a weird kind of schizophrenia about this. And Gregg was thinking about this. I asked him how in the world did you get into writing a book on shame for heaven sakes? And he said, "Well, I was looking at all these things," some things I just described. And he said, here was the phrase he said, "And I got curious." And he said, "You know, I'm a"... One of his areas of study is Chinese philosophy, Confucianism. Spent a lot of time working on that.-
Tim Muehlhoff: Wrote a book called Confucius for Christians. Eerdmans.
Rick Langer: ... Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: Really good book.
Rick Langer: Yeah. And so he said, "You know, I was curious because I had all of this sort of stuff in my mind, I'd been kind of steeped in a lot of that literature." And he said, "Confucian literature, shame and honor, honor shame stuff is a huge issue. That's just the way they see the world." And why is it that they view that so positively, we tend to view that so negatively? It got me curious. And I just, I thought what a perfect response instead of, that got me angry, so I tweeted. Gregg said, "That got me curious, so I read, and as I read, I found more and I finally ended up writing a book."
So we talked about curiosity is one of the key things in approaching people you disagree with or differ. And as I went back and listened to that episode, I realized, wow, that was what Gregg modeled so very, very well, is he didn't react. Because he really disagreed with some of the people on the other side of this discussion, but it didn't lead him to just get angry, tweet or to just say, "Hey, this is a terrible movement." He said, "Well, let me think about this more." And he generated a really thoughtful [inaudible 00:22:27] about that.
Tim Muehlhoff: One of the few guests that we've done three podcasts.
Rick Langer: Yep.
Tim Muehlhoff: We only intended two, but it was so good we just asked Gregg, would you go for a third? And he was, of course he said, "Yeah, let's absolutely do it." Here's what I love about Gregg, and again, I love his books, Confucius for Christians. Remember his great book I Told Me So?
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: On self perception.
Rick Langer: Self perception.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, it's phenomenal. So they do something, philosophers particularly that-
Rick Langer: Yes, philosophers. Tell me about philosopher, Tim. This is great. I'm all ears.
Tim Muehlhoff: ... Yes. And I was going to say, noted, my co-host. They define their terms. And I think some people roll their eyes at it because it's like, "Come on, we all know what love is. Come on. We all know what shame is." But we don't.
Rick Langer: We don't.
Tim Muehlhoff: We talk past each other constantly. And again, this is marital communication 101. Okay. I'm concerned about the kids' schedule or the spirituality of our household, and it's really good to step back and say, "Okay, I want to have this conversation. Can we just talk real quick about what you mean by spirituality, what I mean, and then we're going to have to come to a level playing field of what those terms mean at least to us?" That's called meta communication. That's communication about our communication. Let's not assume we know. Let's actually ask. Well, okay, when I say I'm this political party, this is what I mean by that. That is so helpful in the beginning, is let's just get our terms on the table and find out even what we're talking about. I thought that he's such a great example of doing that.
Rick Langer: And let me just pick up one of the particular things he said, that just is right in vain with what you're saying. He made a really interesting distinction between shame and shaming. And if you'll notice, when I was describing this originally, I went from the word shame as terms of what you feel. And then I talked about shaming on public media, social media, and that was exactly a difference that Gregg had developed in the book. He says, "Yeah, shame is basically a thing that you feel when you lose standing." Well, shame is losing, standing in your community and we also use that word to describe the feeling you have when you lose standing in your community. So it's both an internal feeling you have and the objective experience of no longer having the same standing that you once did.
And so, okay. Yeah. And he says, "I think that's the right thing that forces you. It's a sense of accountability to a community and allows you to fail in your values." And when you don't do that, you go, "Have you no shame?" I mean, there's kind of that sense. So that's great. Shaming is different because it's you trying to make me feel bad about the thing. Because the other one is me having this objective experience and then generating the bad feel on my own in response to it. This one is bypassing that whole process of me having this and just saying, "Let me make you feel shamed." And that's a really, really helpful distinction. So anyhow, kudos to Gregg, both for his curiosity, but then also for doing what philosophers tend to do with clarifying our thinking about these things.
Tim Muehlhoff: And you have to go back and listen to the podcast or read his book because his handling of white shame, white guilt for what's happening racially in our country, to me was the price of admission for the podcast and for the book. And he would say very quickly, I don't want to butcher his thoughts, because he's such a great thinker. He said, "Should I feel white guilt for what's happening?" And he said, "I don't think so, because honestly, I may have benefited from a system, but I didn't create the power dynamics of the system. But should I feel shame?" He goes, "I think we should, based on the definition that you just said."-
Rick Langer: The definition they gave. Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: ... "That maybe my getting to my social platform and status today was easier for me than other people. And maybe I had a bunch of perks and advantages that take down my status." I thought it was a fascinating conversation. And I thought it was well worth thinking about and being curious about.
Rick Langer: Yep. All right. Well, let's do a wrap for part one of our 50 episodes in review and then we'll pick up a few others after this. We'd like to thank you for listening here to the Winsome Conviction podcast. You can get it at Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Play, wherever it is you go to get your podcasts. We'd love to have you subscribe and become a regular listener. And we'd also love to encourage you to check out our website, winsomeconviction.com, where you both find our podcasts, but also a lot of articles we've written and other things that come up, resources that we really think are valuable and we'd love to have you check those out. So thanks so much for joining us.