I don’t know who in their right mind would want to take a philosophy class at eight in the morning. I sure didn’t. But in the spring semester of 2001, my only other option was to take it at seven.
Seriously, what kind of teacher wants to teach a required Philosophy 101 class to a bunch of sleepy uninterested college kids at 7am on a Monday morning? Dr. Jim Stump, that’s who. I had no problem with Dr. Stump – I liked him. He’s an MK, so we’re practically family. If it had been later in the day I probably would have loved the class, but it wasn’t so I hated it. Most of us stumbled in, sometimes in an appropriate version of pajamas, munching on whatever was handy to grab as we walked out the door . . . completely unready to wrap our brains around the mystery of life. To top it off, we had to write papers almost every week with complex answers to philosophical questions . . . in 500 words or less. If you’ve read my blog, you know that’s pretty much impossible for me.
Needless to say, I was not properly invested in this class and I remember absolutely nothing of what I was supposed to learn. And yet . . . I learned one of the most important lessons of my college career because of this class.
As the semester wore on and I became much more consumed by the classes and activities I actually cared about, it became increasingly more difficult to get up in the morning. I was late all the time; it’s the only class I ever skipped more than twice, and definitely the only class I skipped just because I didn’t want to get out of bed. I had a conscience, though, and felt pretty guilty about it. I knew it was disrespectful to Dr. Stump to show up late, especially when I really did like the guy and he had really great things to say by the time I was awake enough to listen.
One afternoon, around mid-April or so, I went to his office. As I remember, it was a long narrow room covered in books from ceiling to floor along two walls. The room was lit by a lamp on the desk where Dr. Stump sat in a cream colored shirt and brown tie. He was not a large man, but he had a quiet presence that intimidated me as I sat there feeling guilty. I began to stumble through an apology for being late all the time, probably giving some really lame excuses. Dr. Stump listened without interrupting, then spoke two sentences that changed my entire world view:
“You don’t have to apologize to me.
It simply shows where your priorities lie.”
Period. No ellipses or question mark or comma or exclamation point necessary. No debate or philosophizing or explaining warranted. Just cold, hard truth.
I have pondered and pondered this statement over the years, but I always come back to two main lessons:
1. Disregarding any privilege that I have chosen for myself only hurts me . . . and is pretty dumb. What kind of an idiot spends money on an excellent education and then complains about getting it? Dr. Stump got paid whether I showed up or not.
2. It doesn’t matter what I say is important to me; what matters is what I do. Many things are important to us, and they probably are. But there’s a difference between what actually is important to us, what we know should be important to us, and what we want others to think is important to us.
The truth is in our actions, always.
In honor of Dr. Stump, I’ll stop here. This post is 629 words long – I still can’t do it! (Or at least I don’t care enough to try . . .)