Opening Words from Sun. July 30 by Scott Kreher

Good Morning!

My name is Scott Kreher. My family recently joined Ethical after a year of watching from the sidelines.

First, I’d like to thank everyone for welcoming us here. Finding this community has been inspirational. Not Hallmark-card level inspirational, but truly inspiring: a reminder that being a humanist feels more directive than just sitting at home and calling myself an atheist.

Secondly, I can’t believe how easy it is to get up here and speak in front of you all. I assumed someone would look over my opening words and tell me what to add or subtract. Instead, no one has any idea what I’m about to say.

So far, nothing of value, but I’m hoping to get there.

I’m an English teacher. I’m used to standing in front of a lot of people, making bold statements to subvert traditional thinking, using literature as an analytic gateway into our world and its values.

That being said, I’m not used to people actually listening to me (or humoring me by laughing at my sad jokes). New members are encouraged to share how they found the Ethical society, and I found this building first on a run. I was running on Clayton when I saw this pointy building. I was intrigued by the name, came home to tell my wife about it, and we looked up the website together. I started listening to the previously recorded platforms and I was hooked. I was impressed by the thoughtful commentary on life, but also impressed with all of the Star Trek references.

Before that, I had grown up Catholic in St. Louis. Really, I grew up in St. Peters on the other side of the river. The answer to St. Louis’ favorite question is that I went to DeSmet Jesuit high school. It was there that I learned a lot about Catholicism, but the Jesuit priests taught us to question everything as well. The more they taught me to question, the more I questioned my religion. I went to college and yadda yadda yadda, I left an atheist.

Now, in addition to teaching, I coach girls cross country. I have found a lot of answers I seek during my own runs. For example, I found this building. Running is a time of contemplation and I hope my athletes will find their answers while running, too.

However, there are also races! Not every race is a success where we get to break the tape and cross the finish line first. Sometimes my athletes will finish a race and be disappointed with the results. Their time wasn’t as fast as they had wanted. What went wrong? This is where we learn to flourish: by questioning our failures.

  • Did I stretch enough before the race?
  • Did I start out too fast and burn out?
  • Did I take it too easy on the hill workout?
  • Should I be a runner? Why are we punishing ourselves by running? Is it insane to expect a person to run for 3.1 miles? Who chose 3.1? What’s the meaning of this? What’s the meaning of life?

Actively replaying an event in our mind, examining it, and looking for what went wrong so we don’t repeat it. This is how we improve.

It’s painful to revisit our failures. It’s easier to assign blame to others instead of seeing chances for self improvement. Take a moment now to think of a recent failure in your life. Maybe it is hard for you to think of one, but several come to me immediately. One recent example involves waiting to write this speech until this morning.

This is where my second tip for flourishing comes in: when replaying and examining failures, we also have to avoid foisting the blame for those failures on others. I have a helpful mental model. A trick that I hope will be useful to you all, too.

My tip is to keep the mental model known as Hanlon’s Razor in mind. Briefly stated, Hanlon’s Razor is that we should never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect.

If you’re driving and someone cuts you off, it’s not that they have a personal grudge against you. They could have forgotten to signal properly.
Is the Wi-Fi out in your favorite coffee shop? The staff isn’t trying to punish you; they might not know about it yet, either.

Using Hanlon’s Razor in our lives helps us develop relationships and be less judgmental. Hanlon’s Razor allows us to have more empathy. As a teacher, if a student has her head down during my class, I know that there are several external factors that could have lead to this outcome: has she been sleeping enough? Does she even have a safe place to spend the night? Has she had breakfast this morning or did her bus get her to school too late and so she missed the free meal opportunity? I can choose to entertain these questions, or I could take her head being down as a personal attack on my English lesson or me specifically. I’ll let you decide which one is more productive.

In life, I think ignorance or neglect lead to more of our problems than open malice. When a situation causes us to become angry or frustrated, it can be valuable not only to replay and question events, but also to consider if the emotional reaction we feel is justified. In this way, we can avoid repeats of the same situation.

Thank you

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.