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Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D. (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/07/01


Bob Kuhn, J.D. is the President of Trinity Western University (TWU). He discusses: leading a nation; justice versus mercy; former prime minister interviews; hope and optimism; increased depression and hopelessness in youth; joke about phones and other devices; and bullying, FIRE, Greg Lukianoff, Sally Satel, universities, crime rates, and being socially blind.

Keywords: Bob Kuhn, CEO, Christian, president, religion, Trinity Western University.

Interview with Bob Kuhn, J.D.: President, Trinity Western University (Part Two)[1],[2],[3]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: It takes a special person to look at the position of prime minister of Canada or the president of the United States, or leaders of other advanced industrial economies – most often in East Asia, Western Europe, and North America – and think, “I can do that.”

It was something noted in the earlier part of the interview. It seems the disposition is a certain sense of grandiosity.

Not necessarily in an unhealthy way in every case, there is a certain self-confidence of some leaders, which is appealing and can do positive things in international relation and in doing diplomatic work.

At the same time, it can be unhealthy.

Bob Kuhn: Disastrous. I think the issue is if a leader can be confident without being arrogant. What is the place of humility? Clearly, we don’t want any false humility. In my experience, what is typically missing in most leaders is this true sense of humility.

That they themselves should see themselves as privileged to have the opportunity from where they are. It comes from a deep sense of gratitude. That deep sense of “You do not deserve this. Nobody deserves what they got. If people got what they deserved, we would be in a lot worse shape than we are.”

We would be born in some disadvantaged area of the globe in some potentially war-torn, starvation ravaged area. The self-focus, it is one of the reasons that I like Patrick Lencioni, he emphasises the need for humility in leadership.

He characterized it as an essential quality. That is where I think a lot of our leaders lack humility, a true sense of humility. Without it, that, to me, translates into they’re relying on their own devices, their own wits, their own political power, or whatever, and not recognizing that they have a tremendous need to be thankful for all that they have and to be there as a service.

I see leadership as a service to others. It is a sacrifice. If it is not a sacrifice, then current-day leaders should not sacrifice at a certain level. But if it is not sacrifice in service of others, then you got the wrong leader.

Sacrifice is one of those terms people do not use very often anymore. “I have to give something up?”

Jacobsen: [Laughing] Same with virtue.

Kuhn: Right, in today’s parlance, is there a place for virtue? That gets translated into many other things that might be considered moralistic or religious in some cases or views. I think a lot of that comes through the fact that we have become so individual rights oriented.

I have practiced law for a long time now. I always hated the case where I had to represent Goliath. I would rather be on the side of David. Because the court would be all on my side. We, as a society, have come to expect that.

It helps compensate for some of the imbalance of power. However, it defies an objective sense of justice. Clients used to say, “I want justice.” I would say, “Well, we have a legal system, not a justice system. There is a world of difference. In the legal system, we play by rules and try to advocate for our position, but we can’t necessarily dispense justice. We try. Some people try harder than others.”

If you expect justice from the legal system, then you will be disappointed many times.

2. Jacobsen: At the end of the day, most Canadians most of the time probably when they think about it do not want justice. They want mercy [Laughing].

Kuhn: That is a great line. They don’t want justice. If we want justice, we probably are misguided to think that we are entitled to that.

Jacobsen: Besides, our stature now in terms of quality of life came from love and self-sacrifice of – virtues in my opinion – prior generations to get us where we are. Lifespan 250 years ago or less was half, less than half, of what it is now, even for men.

Kuhn: I had a discussion yesterday. We were talking about WWII. If WWII were called today, would we have anybody to go?

Jacobsen: Primary question: would anyone qualify for the physical standards?

Kuhn: [Laughing] Yes, that is true.

Jacobsen: Second question: then would anyone have the moral gumption and courage to sacrifice their lives?

Kuhn: I think the answer is unequivocally, “No.”

3. Jacobsen: I did two interviews with the only two former prime minister who I emailed so far. There is probably a half-dozen left alive. I had trouble finding Jean Chretien, Stephen Harper, and so on. Their emails.

When I did interviews with Paul Martin and the other with Kim Campbell, both took on specific tasks of self-sacrifice from what mattered to them. Apart from disagreements some may have with what they work for, they had that value of sacrificing “my own later life for a position and finances and the stability of infrastructure of particular movements.”

Paul Martin with the Martin Family Initiative (MFI). He focuses on Indigenous youth throughout the young lifecycle on health, wellbeing, and educational outcomes. With Kim Campbell, she focuses on women’s rights and things associated with that.

Those are moderately general domains of focus relevant to things that concern them, but both are unified by that sense of sacrificing their later lives. They could be in Cancun. They do not do it.

Kuhn: One of my favourite quotes is Helen Keller, “Life is an adventure or it is nothing at all.” I use that in some of my speaking because of Parkinson’s Disease. I feel it is part of the adventure. No, I probably wouldn’t prefer to have this. But it is part of life.

You approach it with an attitude similar – I hope it is similar – to the prisoner of war. The Jewish psychologist, he lived through the concentration camps. Viktor Frankl said, “The one thing you can‘t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to meThe last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

The attitude that you have in adversity is the key to what you need to survive.

Jacobsen: It makes sense, to me. It makes sense to have that sense of purpose. I believe Rick Warren has an extraordinarily popular book.

Kuhn: The Purpose Driven Life.

Jacobsen: I believe Dan Barker wrote a book called Life Driven Purpose.

Kuhn: You are right. It makes sense. If there is no purpose, I think there is no hope. Without hope, people perish. I was thinking about that earlier today, talking about hope. Hope is this ephemeral thing. You have it or you don’t.

If you do lose hope, that is where depression can happen. People who have hope tend to not have depression. It is relative of course. You wonder “Where does hope come from? Is it genetic? Is it experiential? Is it some sort of worldview?”

We don’t spend enough time thinking about where hope comes from for different people. I supposed for different religions and different traditions. Without it, we are self-doomed.

4. Jacobsen: Noam Chomsky has a quote about hope or optimism. If you do not hope or have an optimism to work against something that is opposed to what is important to you, you give up. Then you guarantee the worst will happen.

If you try at least, which requires that basis of hope or optimism, then you can guarantee at least an amelioration of the types of problems that might arise. That is already pretty good because it is already moving away from the worst possible scenario.

Kuhn: I often think hope is required in daily doses. If you are not getting your daily doses of hope, whatever generates that, you end up with a sense of hopelessness because hope is deferred, deflected

I usually use that line in the context of Parkinson’s, so many people have this hope of a cure. Michael J. Fox and others, hope that someone will turn over a rock and will find a cure. That doesn’t feed you everyday. That leaves you depressed because it is still a long ways-away.

I talk about adventure. Life is an adventure. We grab hold before it spins away. We fear losing hold. We hesitate out of fear. We fail to grasp the adventure that it is all a part of life and meaning in a way.

5. Jacobsen: Whether innate or environment as the positive correlation, the sense of hopelessness leading to a real or a perceived self-generated depression. You mentioned – midway through the conversation – depression or apparent depression in students in the Millennial, plus or minus a couple years on the generational range, undergraduate and graduate students.

Do you think that lack of hope amounts to at least one factor to play into that increased depression and hopelessness among youth? If so, why?

Kuhn: Yes. I am not sure I can answer this at all. It comes back to talking a bit about what we were talking about before. The “fat and sassy” nature of our society.

Jacobsen: [Laughing] I love that phrase.

Kuhn: When Millennials see, “That is not the way the future is going to be. I cannot aspire to it.” I had mediocre grades. I had to work really hard for my marks. These days, you can work hard for your marks and still not move ahead in the lineup.

You might still end up a barista at Starbucks. “What hope is there for people who are normal like me?” They are left with fewer choices, a world more threatening in some ways. What do kids – I’ll call them, young people – have hope in? Their world is more compromised in many respects.

The opportunities are reduced. I think these things are like hope draining machines.

[Points to phone]

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kuhn: They isolate us. The degree to which they isolate us. It is a metaphor in a sense. Parkinson’s, one of its rarely understood aspects is that it is a self-isolating disease. People who have Parkinson’s usually have  A-type personalities for an unknown reason.

They fade to black. They disappear. I am not sure as to all of the reasons. One is a lack of confidence, hope, and reason to live. All of those dark thoughts. It is a little bit like a machine. That we carry around with all of us.

We choose to self-isolate. The stats on these things are that people in the Millennial generation would rather text than have face-to-face interactions. That is astonishing to me. That the live interaction in person is down below emails.

That is really quite indicative. Why are people attracted to that?

6. Jacobsen: Jerry Seinfeld had a joke about people with iPhones or Androids. People look down slowly, chin on their chest. The question they’re asking, “Let me see, what has more buttons? My phone or your face?” [Laughing]

Kuhn: It is a remarkable commentary. Isn’t it?

Jacobsen: It is.

Kuhn: That we can’t leave it alone. We are constantly making value judgments. When people are sitting in a meeting, they are saying, “It is more important that I look at this phone than that I pay attention to my co-worker, colleague.”

Jacobsen: Who may be wincing because I said something rude.

Kuhn: Yes, it is another form of incivility in a sense. It is another form of devaluing the person. I think it generates out of this individualism that we have adopted with such vigour. Community is atomized. I forget who used that term.

Someone said that recently. Community is atomized. We are feeding that atomization by not creating some means of interacting. I frankly think that is one of the aspirations, not always achieved, of Trinity Western. It is the best thing about Trinity Western.

It is its community. We do not always succeed. But I think if you spend some time listening, being eyes and ears. You would find this to be a far different place than you would find in a secular or public university.

It is hard to explain what that is, but lots of people who have no affinity for an Evangelical Christian perspective have told me. That there is something going on, something special at this university. It is hard to define, but is positive and different.

We have people with depression. Same as any place else. The difference is people really care about each other. Professors care about students in class. Yesterday, I went down for lunch at the cafeteria.

Usually, I choose to sit with a group of students who I have never met before, to sit down and say, “Can I eat here?” Of course, they wince a little bit sometimes. I sit next to a young woman – first year. I ask, “How has it been? Has it lived up to its billing – life at Trinity?”

She said, “Yea…” Just enough pause to know this wasn’t a ringing endorsement. Then we had a half-hour discussion about depression. I can share some of the things that I go through. She began to smile because she was relating to someone who knew what depression was about.

That was an interaction in community. The opportunity to go face to face. I do not think that would happen, where the president of the university would sit down and have a conversation about her depression and how she is trying to go through that.

I think more of those interactions are needed to bring back hope. My hope is that she would get some sense of hope or encouragement out of that time. We need more of that. That would, maybe, be something that would generate civility and open honesty and inquiry rather than the forced political correctness, where we can’t wander outside for fear of offending someone.

I am probably as sensitive as the next person, but I think we have done that one a bit.

7. Jacobsen: Down that rabbit hole, the issue is not hurt feelings necessarily. It is a concern. Few people want to deliberately hurt another person’s feelings, whether faith, non-faith, ethnic background, political background, and so on.

The issue is, someone says an opinion, whether backed by fact or not, and people may disagree with that personally to the point that it feels like an affront, a personal offense.

Kuhn: Yes.

Jacobsen: They react in such a way that they condone silencing that person, threatening with physical violence on social media and other places. There is a task force on cyberbullying. I write for it.

The problems come from the reactions, not necessarily from the opinions. The opinions may be abhorrent; or they may be of the highest good.

Kuhn: Yes.

Jacobsen: However, the issues come from an individual’s sense of entitlement to silence another person that they disagree with or feel that they hurt their feelings simply by assuming the intention of the other person.

Kuhn: Yes.

Jacobsen: “I feel bad. Therefore, you intended to make me feel bad.”

Kuhn: Imputed motive.

Jacobsen: Imputed motive. Without the proper conduct in a civil society, discourse, especially in an academic environment where you would expect better behaviour from students or at least have the values conveyed to students that “this is the way it is done,” you ask the person, “Is this what you meant? What do you mean by that?”

Then you have a conversation. At that point, the civility opens up. That seems less and less the standard. I see some making larger claims about the campus around this. If you look at an organization like Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which is an organization by Greg Lukianoff, Sally Satel from the American Enterprise Institute recommended it to me.

I looked at the statistics for disinvitation from 2000-2014. In 2014, there were something like 40 disinvitations in 2014 out of all the speeches in the United States or North America out of the 2,600-2,700 universities.

Based on the statistics, not thorough enough but preliminary if independently, it seems minor but growing. The fact that it is growing can influence other aspects of academic life. It may be indicative of what is happening on the periphery of those statistics.

It is a concern to me, but more of a minor one than a major one. It makes the news sometimes, but it is an individual story. It is like saying, “The crime capital of Canada.” Proper response or retort, “Yes, in Canada.”

We maybe have 500-700 murders per year in all ways. California has as many murders as Canada in all ways in just stabbings. It is a difference in the way we relate to each other. I think it is an relevant issue on campus because it tends to be a moderately growing phenomena of concern of how people are relating to one another.

Maybe, it is because people aren’t relating each other enough. They are getting the isolation with their iPhones, Androids, and computers. It may be leading to a preference for no face-to-face interaction – texting, email, Skype, and so on, where these kinds of interactions lead to less social skills, less preference for people up front.

It leaves people blind, socially blind, to how a person winces, smiles, gives a certain inflection. If they are saying something polite, but if their body is saying, “I am going to hurt you. You smile and then go away.

It is skills like those that decline. It may, in part, explain some of the issues on campus around civility, around respect for another person’s right to say what they want whether it is true or not. Also, your right, as per the George Carlin sketch about the preacher John Wildman, to turn the dial to another station or turn the radio off.

You can not attend that lecture. You can walk away rather than threatening public violence, or disinviting, or coming on campus with banners and screaming them down – as happened to some public intellectuals on Canadian campuses, more prominently in the United States.

It is one of those things that concern me to a minor to an increasingly moderate degree, which I think relate to many of the things that you have been saying. With that as a theme, a thematic element, what are some of your hopes for Trinity Western for 2020?

Kuhn: Perhaps, an overarching hope would be that society generally would be able to accommodate a somewhat disparate now, historically not so, worldview. That is being given fairly short shrift on a number of fronts.

I hope that at some point the pendulum will quit swinging or swing back to some place of balance to the place of a Christian organization, such as this, in a pluralistic society. That pluralism becomes more of a real principle rather than – I will call it – peculiar pluralism.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Kuhn: That suggests some things are okay in pluralism and some things are not, which becomes hegemony. Anyway, I really hope for that. I think the lack of civility in some quarters in relation to that topic, whether talking about the proposed law school and the litigation, or other areas.

That would really be, maybe, a fond and somewhat faint hope. For Trinity, it would be that it would gain a greater comfort in its own skin perhaps. I think we are in a transitional era. We might have been one time accused of being a green house.

It is not possible, partly because of these machines (iPhones etc.), but it is not possible to make a bubble for Trinity even if you wanted to – which I do not think they want to. We do not need to embrace those things because we would question them.

We do not need to question. We need to engage. The uniqueness of the community here would be understood, perhaps.

Also, for the students themselves, that there would be a renewed understanding of sacrifice, for commitment in relationships. The need for community to have a place that means you may need to forego your individual rights. That is the nature of community.

We all forego something to be a part of a community. If we do not, then we lose that sense of community. However, we could then become pretty isolated and create a dreaded-dour community.

Those would be some of my hopes. It is hard work being unique in a sense. We could say, “We are unique as a manifestation of that,” but there are tremendous pressures to dissolve into the pressure that is society and wants conformity and homogeneity.

Even though they talk about it as diversity. It is this tremendously ironic characterization of Christianity in the context of equality, diversity, and inclusiveness. The message of Christ is for an equality that is far above and beyond.

An equality based on being equal. There is no such thing as equality at a human level. You and I are different. You have greater intellectual power and possession than I do. I may have something that you do not. Does that make us equal?

We are unique. For that purpose, equality is something far above than that diversity. Because we are different. How do we manifest diversity? Do we legislate diversity? Do we legislate inclusivity?

I believe that by going at it in some of the ways that we are going,  we will do more harm than good. That we will actually place burdens on people that we try to legislate the heart, which is, again, coming to community.

You cannot legislate the heart. So, we legislate behaviour and create the potential that people revert to violent means. All kinds of things, which are unsavoury for consideration at a societal level.

It leads me to a place of hope because I think there is still a hunger and a desire to have those relationships. I tell people that 40/45 years ago, I went here. Some of my good friends from then – many of my good friends – are still my friends today.

How many people can say that? That their first couple years of college. They maintained their relationship. That would be another hope, I guess. That those relationships people have engaged in and experienced here will be true and born out as having value over the long haul.

We are not very good anymore at delaying gratification. We want immediate results for everything.

Jacobsen: We suck at the Marshmallow Test.

Kuhn: [Laughing] Yes, yes.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1President, Trinity Western University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 1, 2018 at; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018 at

[3] J.D. (1979), University of British Columbia (J.D. 1979); B.A. (1976), University of British Columbia; A.A. (1972), Trinity Western College.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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