- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Paul J. Dovre
- Anna Rhode â€™09
- Arland Jacobson
- Larry Papenfuss
- Polly Kloster
- Roger Degerman
- Stephanie Ahlfeldt
- Susan Oâ€™Shaughnessy
- Kristi Rendahl
- Dr. Heidi Manning
- Roy Hammerling
- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Jan Pranger
- Nikoli Falenschek '11
- Bruce Vieweg
- Dr. Paul Dovre
- Whitney Myhra '11
- Bruce Houglum
- Dr. Lisa Sethre-Hofstad
- Dr. Paul Dovre, Interim President
- Nick Ellig
- Virginia Connell
- Per Anderson
- Vincent Reusch
- Larry Papenfuss
- Carl-Martin Nelson
- President William Craft
- Dr. Olin Storvick
- George Connell
- Robert Chabora
Dr. Lisa Sethre-Hofstad, Psychology
I was pondering the theme Blest by Diversity in terms of our texts for today, and will share with you my thoughts as it relates to my disciplinary identity as a psychologist.
Habituation is a procedure used by psychologists in research, particularly with young infants. This paradigm involves presenting a stimulus, repeatedly, until the participant stops paying attention; essentially, you capitalize on the human tendency to get bored. You then present a new stimulus. If the infant re-engages, the researcher can tell that the baby recognizes that there is a difference between the two stimuli. Infants as young as 3 months of age contribute to science in this way - telling us what they know. Babies, it seems, PREFER diversity in stimuli.
The text today reminded me of another phenomenon in developmental psychology. The text reads "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful."
Branches. Pruning. Bears more fruit. What immediately came to mind as I pondered diversity in the midst of this text was the process of brain development in human infants. The newborn brain is predisposed to seek and learn from information in the environment, and the development of the brain is especially sensitive to input when we are young. This is sometimes referred to as brain plasticity. This ability to learn from environmental input is adaptive in that it allows the infant to learn the native language, to differentiate parental caregivers from other adults, to form schemas which are the foundation for cognitive growth and development, and so on. The environmental input and stimulation serves as a powerful mechanism by which developmental pruning takes place. Essentially, the connections that form in the brain do so as a result of what is experienced in the world. So, for example, the language the baby hears, in all its complexity, becomes more fully developed while the capacity to learn other human languages gets pruned away. The dendritic morphology, or branching, that emerges - in all its complexity comes about as a direct result of the diversity of input. The more input, the more connections are formed, and the more complex the ‘branching' in the brain.; pruning away neurons or connections that are unnecessary, and strengthening connections that are stimulated over and over again leads to greater speed, more efficient information processing, and becomes highly complex over time. The brain, it seems, SEEKS diversity.
What about physical development in children? Our text today makes reference to the body as a whole being. We heard "Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body." How do we treat our bodies?
I was recently reading about repetitive use injuries. In particular, what caught my attention is the apparent increase in repetitive use injuries, especially among our youngest athletes. This emerging trend in youth sports has been linked to the year-round focus on a single sport, partly due to the increasingly competitive nature of sports for children. True to their name, repetitive-use injuries are caused when certain motions or sports actions are repeated too much in too little time. Physical activity breaks down the body, and a certain level of rest is required for the body to recover, especially in children whose bodies are still growing. Dr. Philip Wilson, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon in the Sports Medicine Center at Children's Hospital in Dallas, Texas states, "Intense, full-time efforts in one sport can lead to a lot of the overuse injuries in these children." He further says, "This is damage we used to never see until they were late in high school or even college." Athletes, it seems, are never "out of season". But what our bodies need is a diversity of movement in our repertoire (cross-training if you will) for our bodies to heal, build and grow. This is especially true for our children. Our bodies, it seems, NEED diversity.
What does it mean to be blessed by diversity? Certainly, world events as of late demonstrate to us what happens in a population of people with widely varied ideas about democracy and government. Indeed, diverse opinions sometimes lead to unrest. But, in many ways, the disagreement between people is also what helps move them ahead. As we work together to bring our ideas to a common place, we often ultimately end up in a more advanced position. Just like in rock-climbing, where the goal is to produce friction with your shoes, this "friction" prevents falling - allowing you to advance up the mountain. Think about discussions with your partner, your spouse, your roommate, your professor, your colleagues, or your friends. Sometimes they "push back" - they are resistant to our ideas. This is friction. They challenge us to consider more deeply our perspectives. They want us to consider carefully THEIR perspective - which can be quite different from our own. Research in moral development suggests that people are more likely to advance through the stages as a result of being challenged by diversity and having to reason our way through difficult dilemmas or problems. Our experience of diversity - of ideas, notions, or perspectives - helps us move forward. To advance up the mountain, if you will.
What I worry about is our lack of apparent interest in diverse input. In a world where you can "choose" to friend or unfriend someone with the click of the mouse, select and download your favorite "app" for entertainment, receive email alerts for your political party of choice, what are we missing? Are we missing an opportunity to engage with the "other"? And, are we missing this opportunity on purpose?
In the ELCA, there are some congregations voting to leave the denomination based on a 2009 vote to allow gay and lesbian clergy in committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships to serve congregations who choose to call them into their midst. My question is, are they leaving so that they can create a homogeneous branch of Lutheranism, where everyone ‘agrees' on tough issues? And then, what happens when the next tough issue comes along? Refusing to engage intellectually and emotionally with those with whom we disagree makes me think of a vine without branches. The body as "parts" but not as a "whole", the aching elbow or knee that is injured from overuse while other parts atrophy from lack thereof. The rug I bought in the old city of Jerusalem, a glorious tapestry with abundant colors and patterns, is more beautiful than if it were a solid blue, or red.
Now to be fair, I do not mean to suggest that we lack the capability to be open-minded, or that we always seek sameness. Not at Concordia. In fact, students begin their academic journey here with a critical inquiry seminar - a course designed specifically to teach students how to think things through, with a critical eye. Preparing students to serve a diverse and global world is part of what we strive for as well. And, some commonality is good. Having a common sense of purpose can bring enhanced meaning to our work together. A mission statement that we can collectively support helps shape the individual roles we play, here or elsewhere, in our lives. Finding friendships or partnerships based on a common set of values or interests brings new meaning to those friendships. Indeed, it is those shared interests, values, and goals that research shows provides the foundation for a healthy, long-lasting marriage or partnership, for example.
But where is that line between standing up for your beliefs - and good old-fashioned "compromise"? Where is the line between seeking diverse input and closing off our minds to an alternative approach? I would argue we must caution ourselves against habituating to agreement or sameness. Even babies know this isn't a good idea. What happens if part of our body is ignored? In our brains, those are the neurons that DIE - without input, they get the message they aren't needed.
What happens if we fail to engage the whole body of Christ? Does that lead to undesirable pruning? Breaking off into our own like-minded little groups? And in the name of WHAT? Or WHOM? Is it the case that we are threatened in some way when our perspectives are challenged? And, why so often is it our faith perspective that is so unwilling to consider an alternative perspective? Is it so fragile as to not withstand a little friction? We all have deal-breaker issues where we are unwilling to compromise our perspective. However, sometimes we must agree to disagree but remain in conversation with each other nonetheless.
Today I challenge each and every one of us to consider the ways we have been blessed by diversity. I want to us to celebrate the progress we have made on an issue because we no longer see this issue from a one-sided perspective. I wish for us to PREFER diversity - like babies do. I hope for us to SEEK diversity - like our brains do; for us to seek out diverse opinions and ideas from others, and discover what might be learned from the so-called "other" viewpoint. I want us to remember how much we NEED diversity like our bodies do -- to remember how much we learn from a self-reflective, critical approach to our viewpoints. And, most importantly, I pray that we bless each other in the midst of our diversity.
So how do we bless each other in the midst of diversity? We embrace the richness it offers - we seek to cross-train our faith perspective and to foster connections between unlikely but necessary components of the human experience - much like a newborn seeks to engage with that which is different. We truly are blessed by diversity - our minds, our hearts, and our bodies. We must seek it. We must learn from it. And we must remember that it is only through friction that we advance.
Our text reads, "Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love."