Authenticity and Inclusion–Dialogue Part 4

Authenticity refers to speaking in ways that reflect how your truly are. In computer terminology, when a program shows on screen what you can expect to get on the page, it is called WYSWIG (What you see is what you get). Anymore, nearly everything is WYSWIG so it’s not that big a deal. But I remember the days of the blue background WordPerfect. Authenticity is the WYSWIG of human communication. Authenticity is communicative component of integrity.

Inclusion is a willingness to be in dialogue with those who disagree with us or who are not like us. Authenticity and inclusion are hard to correlate. We may genuinely dislike people, genuinely not want to be in dialogue with them. Authenticity would require us to be up front about that. Inclusion would require us to change that in ourselves. Tolerance is the mid-point between the two. Which is why I think tolerance as a value is really a mid-point and not an end goal. We need tolerance in a pluralistic culture yet hopefully we will reach that point where we are authentically inclusive of people’s diversity.

To be perfectly honest, I think there are limits to inclusion. I think there ought to be limits in a variety of settings. We ought to limit our inclusions of person who volunteer with children and youth. We must make every effort to ensure their safety and their moral development. We ought to be careful who we include in the group of people who speak for us. Yet, when it comes to dialogue should we, as adults, refuse to hear people out. Put another way is there any danger to listening to people no matter what their message is?

Morning Greetings

From time to time, I think “wouldn’t it be great if I said something more meaningful to my family as we departed in the mornings?” I mean, “see ya’ later” hardly qualifies as a pep talk for a hard day.

Deborah DeWinter, the Programme executive for the World Council of Churches in the United States told a story once of an African father who would say to his children, “Don’t let anyone take the Jesus out of you. Don’t take the Jesus out of anyone.” That struck me as profound. So, I’ve been saying that to my daughter the last three days. This morning she replied, “I know, Dad, you said that to me yesterday. You say that to me every day.” I haven’t said it every day this was only day three. I’ve taken her to school close to 600 times. Which rounds out to mean that I’ve said it .5 percent of the time. I don’t know if this was her way of saying, “Don’t embarass me.” Though we were in the car and no one could tell what we were saying to one another. OR perhaps her way of saying, “I appreciate that.” Either way, I think she was fairly firm this morning that the Jesus in her wasn’t going anywhere and if the Jesus in anyone else moved, it wasn’t her fault.

I shall try again on Monday to find something meaningful to say. Though profundity is hard at 8:30 in the morning sitting in the middle of a Jr. High parking lot.

Presumption and Burden

Earlier today in a story about Mayor Laura Miller’s attempt to have D’Angelo Lee forcibly removed from the land commission twice people made the comment that people are innocent until proven guilty. As is common in America a good legal axiom has here been truncated to make a false statement. A person is either guilty or innocent on the basis of the decisions they make. When people commit crimes, they cease being innocent whether they are ever found guilty or not. Similarly, people who have not commited crimes remain innocent even if a jury finds them guilty.

In the American legal system, a person is presumed innocent. This is a legal concept rooted in Roman law and quite possibly Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 19:15, “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” In COFFIN v. U.S., 156 U.S. 432 (1895), Justice White writing for the majority said, “The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.” The presumption of innocence is an important legal and ethical concept. However, its a good example of a social construction.

A person is not truly innocent if they have committed a crime. The legal system is designed to treat them as innocent. This means that those wishing to prosecute them for a crime have the burden of proof. They have the obligation to prove a person’s guilt before the jury. If they do not prove the guilt, the person continues without threat of further prosecution or punishment. Presumption and burden of proof works in lots of different settings.

When a parent sets a curfew for 10:00 pm this 10:00 pm curfew has presumption. A teenager wanting to exceed that has the burden of proof to convince mom or dad that it should be exceeded in a particular situation. In an academic policy debate, the status quo has presumption and those wishing to change the status quo has burden of proof. This team is usually called the affirmative as they are the ones affirming the resolution and the resolution calls for a change. Academic competitive debates never end in a tie for this reason. If the affirmative team doesn’t meet its burden of proof the round is awarded to the negative. Philip Tompkins, an organizational communication scholar, used the ideas of presumption and burden of proof in discussion the Marshall Space Flight Center’s communication patterns. In the 1960’s a person who thought an operation was unsafe had presumption. Those who wanted to move ahead had to prove that their designs were safe. Tompkins discovered in the wake of the Challenger Explosion that was largely blamed on Marshall that by the 80’s presumption and burden of proof had changed. Those who thought something was unsafe then had the burden of proof.

Presumption and burden of proof are not ontological. They are designated to one side and the other of a contentious issue by those who mitigate the contentious issue. My short term appeal is that people ought not say a person “is” innocent until proven guilty but that a person is “presumedinnocent. On a deeper level, we should be aware of how presumption and burden of proof operate in so many different contexts.

What’s Next

My wife bought the fourth season of West Wing for me recently. I’m a huge West Wing fan. But, I’ve also noticed that I show signs of addiction. Yesterday I watched four episodes–straight. And I can be down-right irritable whenever I’m watching it. Which makes no sense whatsoever. If I miss something due to interruption, I can always go back and watch it again. More importantly, it’s insane to put a TV program above people. Of course, as much as I like to think I’m the only one in the world wired quite the way I am, I know that all of us from time to time exaggerate the importance of unimportant things at the expense of others. We’ll talk about an expensive cup off coffee with words like “need” and “have to have.” We’ll argue about sports questions on call-in radio programs. We get upset when people cut us off in traffic. Yet, we seem unaffected by the big problems. The truly catastrophic problems of the world–hunger, poor education, the loss of a collective conscience–do not seem to get to us in quite the same way. Yes, they bother us but they don’t get quite the same rise out of us as our “pet peeves.”

I think, perhaps, this has to do with power. Perhaps we get energized by small things because we can do something about the small things. These big issues are beyond our control. We lack the resources to solve them. Daily, it seems, we must be reminded that we serve a God who will ultimately take care of the big things and who calls us not to solve the whole problem but to do our part. That begins, I believe, through a daily time with God where we ask God to help us prioritize and determine our response. I suspect that’s summed up in the prayer we make, “Thy kingdom come.”