Sunday, November 27, 2011

But, can we sell that? Doing good in the world is not a lost concept, as two of my students have recently shown... fight the power!

Good news.

Well, good news to me, anyway. Two of my students made the news this week and they have something interesting in common.

Andria Enns was profiled in the Independence Examiner for her next adventure spreading the ideas of peace journalism in the world. I take no credit for this, by the way. She was inspired by my colleague Steven Youngblood to pursue this concept. He took her to Uganda a summer ago and, she says, changed her life.

I have to be honest here and admit I'm not completely comfortable with the principles of peace journalism. How can you not be comfortable with an effort for peace, you say? Well, that's the problem.

The catch is this: peace journalism is about suppressing the inflammatory language in reporting, language which can lead to violence and death. That's a huge simplification and doesn't do the principles justice but I'm going to spare you a long treatise at this point. The rub is I'm old school about journalism -- somebody said it, I report it. Somebody is angry, I report somebody is angry. A little passion is necessary in the world. People ought to be angry about injustice and war.

But I see the other side, too, how inflammatory language can actually cause injustice and war. And, I haven't always been in love with the way journalism is done in the world. That's why I became a teacher. You can hide behind the idea of objective journalism only so long before you realize doing journalism ought to do more than line the pockets of a few corporations.

More on this later. Back to Andria, who generally supports peace journalism in her travels by doing good in communities where a little good is badly needed. She doesn't sweat the principles; she gets dirty doing the work. I'm obviously proud to be her teacher.

My other student in the news is Anthony Hardwick. OK, Anthony graduated several years ago but, you know, when does my student stop being my student? I'm also proud of Anthony. He is the guy up in Omaha who had guts enough to start a petition drive against his own boss over the ridiculous practice of opening retail stores on Thanksgiving night, turning a family holiday celebrated by everyone -- a holiday with no religious barriers, and, also, no actual basis in history -- into just another marketing event.

Anthony gathered a stunning number of petitioners. He was featured in big articles and interviews everywhere, including the New York Times, which did a thoughtful profile on him.

If, after garnering this publicity, no public relations firm can see what a dynamo he is, well... nobody can get hired in public relations anymore. Who wouldn't want a guy who can singlehandedly launch a petition drive that gets him interviewed on CNN and MSNBC and into the pages of the New York Times? My guess is he won't be working two retail jobs much longer.

I was particularly proud of the way he presented himself and his ideas in those interviews. This man has something to offer the world. He can bring a little good to a world in bad need of good.

Which brings me, belatedly -- it is Sunday morning by the way and the only thing I have to do is snake a backed up drain... why hurry the writing -- to the point. Both of these students have decided to go out and do good in the world. Doing good in this world is no small choice.

A few years ago, the university decided to write itself a new mission statement. Don't get me started. But here's the interesting thing about the process. I proposed to the mammoth committee in charge of the writing that the mission statement conclude by saying our graduates would be committed to doing good in the world.

A hue and cry went up in the room. Folks shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Teeth gnashed. Suddenly the big screen where ideas were being typed froze. I knew immediately I'd stepped on a land mine. Who can define good!? One person's good is not another person's good? One culture's good is not another culture's good? It reminded me of the professor in Tom Wolfe's latest novel who always made air-quotes with his fingers when he said the word "god".

Here the offending word was "good".

Quickly, the committee suggested something better. The university would produce "graduates who are committed to their communities." That was my sentence without the phrases "doing good". It took the committee less than five frantic minutes to go from "...graduates who are committed to doing good in their communities" to "...graduates who are committed to their communities." I suggested that gang members are quite committed to their communities. At that point, the whole concept just erased itself from the big screen.

If an institution of higher learning cannot even commit to graduating students with the responsibility of doing good in their communities, who can?

Well, the graduates can. As Andria -- who hasn't even graduated yet -- and Anthony -- who has just begun doing what he will do in the world -- have shown, using a college education for doing good is not a lost concept. Not lost on some of our best students, anyway.



  1. I find myself in interview after interview. Thinking about the positions I am seeking and what they will accomplish. Lining pockets as you say, at the expense of a wink, a hand shake with no real "good" involved. I have turned down several positions over the last two years because pushing drugs, contributing to horrible senior health care and slaving away for a 1 percenter hardly seems like I am making a mark in this world. Why the drive for something more? A Bob Harvey Song (long-time Kansas City musician)"Carry You Across" struck me over the years. I used to go hear the band play while I studied journalism with the professor who tagged me CWeb and a cross between a hockey player and a model. The key lyrics in the song are:"I was born to make a difference in someone else's life". I truly believe making a difference in someone else's life also tranforms your own. These students, like myself, were transformed through teacher's such as you and Youngblood. You give us the tools to see things not just objectively but meaningfully. It means something to those of us who have stood in your path and allowed ourselves to learn. Kudos to these students for ceasing opportunity and for having the gumption to follow-through.

  2. It makes me very proud to be a graduate (of Mr. Lofflin's...not necessarily of Park) reading this story. The concept of “doing good in the world” is what sent me away from the high-profile job at Dodgers Stadium and into higher education four and a half years ago. For some reason, ensuring a Dodger dog came out at the right time to whichever celebrity was in the house at the time didn’t seem that important to me anymore. I’m not saying I’m “changing the world one degree at a time” but I sure am trying to help students earn those degrees through scholarship and grant funding. Well done to my fellow grads—and future grads! :)

  3. Thanks, Professor Lofflin, for this excellent piece. I am comfortable with the fact that you are uncomfortable about peace journalism. It is quite a leap, after all. You are correct in saying that peace journalists like Andi "don't sweat the principles". As I have written, debating these principles is healthy. However, let's not allow that debate to slow us as we strive to give our communities a chance at peace and development. --Steven Youngblood

  4. You shouldn't lose sight of the fact, either, that it's in large part because of your teachings that graduates like these two, and me, are trying to to good things and give voice to the voiceless.

  5. Oh, and thanks for bleeping stealing my "Am I Doing Enough" column idea from '06. :)

  6. This is a nice peace of writing, you are always so thoughtful Lofflin. When I was taking Peace Journalism I felt like I was fighting years of bad thinking and taking words for granted. I agree you have to report things the way they are said, but slant should be avoided if possible; even though we all argued in Ethics that it can't be avoided completely since we're all human and have opinions no matter how much we try and keep them to ourselves. Since Peace Journalism class I never read stories the same way, just like I can't watch the news since I've made television packages and know how edited and scripted they can be. All my journalism classes at Park taught me to be ever mindful of the world around me, and never to take information for granted. It's rare for me to find a source I trust completely, haha. I miss everyone, and I'm very proud of Andi.

    -Tiffany A. Miller

  7. I remember you in ethics. Round about the second week, I thought, 'who IS this woman?' She's taking notes! She doesn't speak until she has something to say. And when she speaks, you better listen, Lofflin, because she's gonna stay after it until you get it.

    Sorry to Kevin for stealing, but you know, columns or bases, it's all in the game. You guys all make me feel good tonight. I guess this last 25 years HAS gone for something.

  8. Good writers steal from other not-as-good writers, I guess. I'm good with it.