Tag Archives: philosophy

Living with VIM and Vigor: The Vision, Intention, and Means to the Good Life

In my role as Student Engagement Staff in the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department I often get to interact with students in need of direction and guidance.  With one recent encounter I used a method of personal analysis based on the work of the late USC philosopher, Dallas Willard.  He called it the VIM method.  I outline some of what I shared with the student below.  What I particularly like about this approach is that recognizes the critical importance of “vision.”  This is to acknowledge that people cannot be forced into human flourishing or that which is good for them.  What we can do is to paint a vision of the good life that they might find alluring and motivating.  As I interacted with this student I tried to guide the discussion with questions that would bring this student face-to-face with their ultimate goals and their understanding of the “good life.”  I think “vision” is the key component and the other two (intention and means) can fall into fall rather nicely under the guidance of a wise counselor.


  • What is your vision for the “good life”?
    • Physically, emotionally, spiritually
    • Relationships
    • Vocation, life-work
  • If the desires of my heart came true, what would it look like? (Try to be specific)
  • What do you want to be doing/experiencing in …
  • One year?
    • Two years?
    • Five years?
    • Ten years?


  • Vision is not enough.  We need to intend by an act of the will (actually, repeated acts of the will) to move toward the Vision set before us.
  • We cannot merely dream—we must act!
  • Clarifying vision can help motivate intention.  As I see clearly the good life, my desires for it increase and I’m more and more willing to move my will toward it.
  • Have I really intended to pursue the Vision before me?
  • Am I willing to begin to make the changes necessary to begin to see the Vision fulfilled?
    • If not, why?  What is holding me up?


  • What are the tools, resources, people, and practices that I will need to see Vision fulfilled?
    • Tools, resources: Technologies, Services (counseling, professional organizations)
    • People: Counselors (professional, wise family and friends), family, friends
    • Practices: Study habits, time management, focused “free-time,”

Question: What one thing do I need to do today to pursue VIM?


Community… where everybody knows your name

Why is it I find myself humming the theme song from the 1980s sitcom “Cheers?”

 Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name

And they’re always glad you came

You want to be where you can see

Our troubles are all the same

You want to be where everybody knows your name

Ah… the hunger and quest for community.  To be known by name by those who are glad you came—finding such a place is a great human good!

Here at GCC, there are two communities that I am a part of that have allowed me to participate in this “great human good.”  The one is relatively new, and the other is a longer-term community that is producing deep and lasting relational effects.

The first, and newer, community is a Christian Professors Group.  As the name would imply, this group is a community of like-minded individuals that gather regularly for discussion on how our mutual faith-commitment can stimulate us in our role as educators.  This is a shared comradery that seeks to inculcate and sustain serious reflection on how the Christian knowledge tradition can influence us as participants in our various disciplines as well as move us to “love our neighbor” inside and outside the classroom.  It is exciting to be challenged to think about the intellectual virtues needed in the academic context and how these might be modeled in our GCC context.  One such intellectual virtue is that of being “fair-minded.”  In his book The Outrageous Idea of the Missional Professor, Paul Gould helpful notes:

“The virtue of intellectual fair-mindedness requires that we willingly listen in an even-handed way to those with whom we disagree.  It is to strive to understand another’s position and to resist erecting simplistic straw man arguments against our opponents which in turn are quickly (and often smugly) refuted.  Perhaps the worry is that being open to another’s viewpoint in a fair-minded way leads to relativism.  Alternatively, perhaps the worry is that such fair-mindedness is not possible given our psychological biases.  Neither worry is legitimate.  Being fair-minded is consistent with the belief that there is an objective truth to be found.  Further, one can be psychologically biased and maintain rational objectivity.  Our biases don’t stand as an insurmountable wall between our minds and the objective world.  Being fair-minded is one application of the golden rule: we would want others to treat us and the views we hold with fairness and charity, and we should do likewise in return.”

Engaging with fellow travelers in the Way as we seek to bring truth, value, and charity to our students and institution has been rewarding.

The second community is one which I have had a longer tenure with—six years—and in which I have found on-going friendship as well as intellectual challenge.  I’m speaking of the GCC Philosophy Club.  The wonderful community provided by this group of individuals is due, in large part, to the pioneering efforts and ongoing activity of the head of the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department, Peter Lupu.  He is the community-builder behind the community we enjoy.

Peter and I on a panel discussion in 2019

Over the years the GCC Philosophy Club has had many students participate in its activities.  Every Friday at 1 pm we can be found outside the LA building under the “Tree of Knowledge” discussing, debating, laughing, and, just in general, having a good time.  We even have doughnuts occasionally.  There is an exciting energy in having 6-12 students and faculty engaged in topics of keen importance (and some which are frivolous but fun).  Our end of the semester meals at a local restaurant are memorable.  There’s nothing like experiencing a student committed to communism have to courageously defend his views over a plate of gyros and fries!

One measure of the power of this community is how many students who have graduated from GCC continue to come back and join our discussions.  During the peak time of Covid when we were meeting virtually, we sometimes had more former students joining us for our Zoom calls than current students.  Personally, I have made friendships with students that have continued beyond their time at GCC.  I know students pursuing degrees in philosophy who are now at ASU and U of A, and we continue to stay in contact, trading articles back-and-forth and catching a lunch together when we can.  In fact, last summer I met with a group of former GCC students every Friday for lunch at our favorite pizza place—well, it was my favorite.  We would discuss philosophy articles and current events.  And, of course, all of this was punctuated by tons of laughter, Pepsi and pizza.

Community… the word speaks of the safety and the goodness of friendship.  To find it is to find something precious.  I’m thankful of the places where everybody knows my name (and I theirs) and they are glad to include me in their number.


Ideas Have Consequences! Teaching Philosophy in Light of the Concept of Worldviews

It has been nearly thirty-five years since I took my first philosophy class here at GCC!  I was fresh out of high school (go Deer Valley Sky Hawks!) and was excited to pursue a path studying philosophy with the hopes of eventually teaching in the discipline.  (As an aside, my very first philosophy class was with longtime GCC professor Bob Hubbard who recently passed away.)  Now, being able to teach our students in the Introduction to Philosophy class (PHI 101) that I took so many years ago is amazing!  I find there are some direct continuities between the concepts I learned over three decades ago and the ones I teach today in my classes.

In my last year of high school, I was exposed to the thought of Francis Schaeffer.  As a thinker he taught me to consider the concept of an integrated worldview.  A picture of Schaeffer hangs in my office as a tribute to his role as a doorman to the larger world of ideas. 

Around this time, I also read James Sire’s book The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog which further encouraged my approach to philosophy in terms of comparing and contrasting various worldviews.  It is this worldview approach that has set the trajectory for my thinking and teaching.  I recently participated in the GCC library’s “suggest-a-book” promotion, and I suggested Sire’s The Universe Next Door (now in the sixth edition).

During the first week of class, I explain the concept of a worldview using a worldview triangle where each point is marked by the one of the key worldview elements: Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics.  I also have them consider the eight worldview questions utilized by Sire:

i. What is prime reality—the really real?

ii. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?

iii. What is a human being?

iv. What happens to a person at death?

v. Why is it possible to know anything at all?

vi. How do we know what is right and wrong?

vii. What is the meaning of human history?

viii. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?

I want students to come away from my philosophy class seeing not only the depth and breadth of great thinkers and their ideas but also the very real practicality of how a worldview functions in their lives and our culture.  In order to reinforce this, I write two things on the board every class period.  One is the worldview triangle, and the other is the statement, “Ideas have consequences, some bad ideas have victims!”  This is to remind the students that the study of philosophy is not about the arcane or irrelevant (okay… some of it is!) but, rather, about ideas that move cultures and societies.  In order to show how this is the case I use the essay by Ashley Fernandes “Why Did So Many Doctors Become Nazis?”

Fernandes notes how doctors and nurses joined the Nazi party in Germany in greater numbers than other professions.  She writes:

“It is worthy of emphasis that although many professions (including law) were “taken in” by Nazi philosophy, doctors and nurses had a peculiarly strong attraction to it. Robert N. Proctor (1988) notes that physicians joined the Nazi party in droves (nearly 50% by 1945), much higher than any other profession. Physicians were seven times more likely to join the SS than other employed German males. Nurses were also major collaborators. The Holocaust should be studied by every health care professional as a reminder of how sacred the substance of our craft is, and what the consequences may be if we forget the dignity of persons again.”

Fernandes shows how good people in a discipline committed to healthcare could become attracted to bad ideas and subsequently lend their hand to evil atrocities.  I read large sections of this essay to the students in my classes to show the very real-world effects that bad ideas can have when they take root in a culture. 

Throughout the semester I continue to stress this dynamic of philosophical ideas and how they come to expression in our own culture.  At times the students can think that studying Plato and Aristotle can seem out of touch with their lives.  One way I attempt to show the ongoing relevance is that these ancient thinkers’ ideas continue to pulsate through our culture—either as ideas to follow or to overthrow.  I try to demonstrate that beneath all the culture war battles that take place in our time there are underlying philosophical ideas at play.  Many times, we simply stay on the surface of cantankerous disagreement that often degenerates in shouting matches.  But beneath all these cultural hot spots there is first a philosophical disagreement.  Understanding the philosophical categories may help them navigate these cultural debates in a more reasoned manner. 

I love philosophy and teaching philosophy.  The ideas that ignited in me a passion to think and articulate an integrated worldview continue to motivate me to see others grasp the beauty and rationality of clear thinking.  If in some small way I can contribute to the opening of minds to larger vistas of thinking and reasoning, then I can count my endeavors a success.



What do bananas, Bonytail Chub, and teaching have in common? Prepare to get my take on life, the universe, and everything…

In my hastily written (and grammatically unsound) post on inclusion, I had two major regrets. The first was the aforementioned text level grammar (my only defense was that I did write it on a phone). The second was that the focus on the importance of inclusion and how it relates to title bias prevented me from talking about a related issue that fundamentally defines my personal world view: Diversity.

I love bananas. They are easy to eat, versatile to bake with, and potassium helps keep my blood pressure regulated naturally. Bananas also served as an important lesson in diversity. Currently, bananas are in danger of extinction. Even though most of the concern is recent, the situation has been long predicted because of the reliance on just a few varieties of the crop. Pre-1950 there were two main varieties in stores. Then Panama Disease devastated the then common Gros Michel variety, which made Cavendish the most likely banana you would purchase in the store today. The lack of diversity in the banana crop made it ripe for an extinction-level problem. There is now a real chance my breakfast of choice won’t be available for the next generation. Foresight into maintaining the diversity of the bananas, even if some of the varieties weren’t as “commercially ideal” as a cash crop, would have resulted in an easier solution to the possibility of extinction.

Bananas in a store (from Pexels image by Kio)
Breakfast is served… for now…

If you haven’t been keeping up on the amazing progress made in science in the last decade, you would be amazed (or horrified) at the godlike possibilities. The good news: those that worry about the human race ending in the next twenty years can take some consolation in the fact that we are a fairly inventive lot, and when push comes to shove can do some incredible things. The bad news: we really work best with templates, and as the banana issue shows, humanity often gets a failing grade in foresight.

Enter the Bonytail Chub, a cute fish native to the Colorado River system. Due to climate change and invasive species this little fellow (and many other native fish species) are also in danger of extinction like my beloved banana. Where the negatives of losing bananas are easy to digest, the negatives of losing the Bonytail Chub (and its many relatives) may not be as clear. Clarity is exactly the problem. Bonytail Chub’s live and thrive in muddy backwaters. Where many fish do best in clean fresh waters, the Bonytail Chub’s ability to live in less than ideal conditions make it unique. Remember how bananas wouldn’t be in their predicament if less ideal varieties had been maintained? With the very real (and aggravatingly rarely talked about) problems of dwindling freshwater supplies and water rights, having a species that contains the genetic puzzle pieces that allow it to thrive in poor water conditions could end up being what is required to save other species (moral questions of genetic manipulation aside).

Image of Bonytail Chub from FWS
Just look at the cute little face…

Bananas and Bonytail Chubs are just two examples showing the importance of diversity in the natural world. Diversity is just as critical in every other aspect of life, including one that most of you reading this might be more familiar with.

Teaching is not a zero-sum game. I spend quite a bit of time every week creating videos for my classes to explain the objectives for the week and recap issues from the previous week. I know from analytics that only a third of my students actually make use of these videos (even less if the videos are too long), but those that do have given me consistent feedback that the videos are a major help to them. In the same respect, some students respond well to written feedback and instructions, and others do best in group work settings. In thirteen years of teaching, I’ve learned that one lecture does not fit all. One assignment or delivery is not the end game. Everyone learns and excels in different ways, so trying to maintain a balance of approaches is important to success. In other words, educational diversity.

Over the last three years of writing on 6×6 I have often eluded to how one of the most important aspects of critical thinking is to be open to new ideas, my hope is that this post will explain my belief structure behind that advice. Simply put: diversity is the answer to almost every problem.

Educational diversity results in higher success rates for students.

Economic diversity fosters resilience during downturns.

Cultural diversity leads to a better more understanding society.

Biodiversity is key to the survival of the planet and the species that reside on it.

So next time you are sipping a cup of tea under a star-filled sky contemplating the meaning of life, the universe, and everything appreciate the fact that there is probably more than one answer and more than one question, and that is a very healthy thing.