Mary Pugh is a Georgia Tech graduate who studied international affairs and served eight years in the Central Intelligence Agency as an envoy to Asia just after 9/11, during an intensely heightened period of importance of international relations.

Mary is brilliant leader and thinker, and she takes her roles as a wife and mother with as much fervor and responsibility as her role in the CIA. Mary serves on the Board of Trustees at Heritage Preparatory School and is an enthusiastic advocate for Hope Heals Camp (, a week-long camp experience and year-round community offering resources, rest, and relationships to families affected by disabilities.  

Mary and Stuart have an inspiring conversation regarding Mary’s perspective on responsibility and leadership, how to be a global citizen while following the way of Jesus, and helping the next generation of leaders be leaders worth following. This is going to be a great listen!

The economist J.K. Galbraith once wrote, “Faced with a choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.”

Leo Tolstoy was even bolder: “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

Why don’t facts change our minds? And why would someone continue to believe a false or inaccurate idea anyway? How do such behaviors serve us?

Humans need a reasonably accurate view of the world in order to survive. If your model of reality is wildly different from the actual world, then you struggle to take effective actions each day.

However, truth and accuracy are not the only things that matter to the human mind. Humans also seem to have a deep desire to belong.

In Atomic Habits, author James Clear wrote, “Humans are herd animals. We want to fit in, to bond with others, and to earn the respect and approval of our peers. Such inclinations are essential to our survival. For most of our evolutionary history, our ancestors lived in tribes. Becoming separated from the tribe—or worse, being cast out—was a death sentence.”

Understanding the truth of a situation is important, but so is remaining part of a tribe. While these two desires often work well together, they occasionally come into conflict.

Paul encourages the emerging faith community in ancient Colosse this way: “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” Paul implies that our words, our conversations, should be gracious and attractive, not off-putting and offensive. We should learn to listen to and learn from others so that our attractive. 

Let’s be clear. We are not saying it’s never useful to point out an error or criticize a bad idea. But you have to ask yourself, “What is the goal?”

Why do you want to criticize bad ideas in the first place? Presumably, you want to criticize bad ideas because you think the world would be better off if fewer people believed them. In other words, you think the world would improve if people changed their minds on a few important topics.

If the goal is to actually change minds, then maybe criticizing the other side is not the best approach.

Most people argue to win, not to learn. As Julia Galef so aptly puts it: people often act like soldiers rather than scouts. Soldiers are on the intellectual attack, looking to defeat the people who differ from them. Victory is the operative emotion. Scouts, meanwhile, are like intellectual explorers, slowly trying to map the terrain with others. Curiosity is the driving force.

If you want people to adopt a certain set of beliefs, you need to act more like a scout and less like a soldier. At the center of this approach is a question Tiago Forte poses beautifully, “Are you willing to not win in order to keep the conversation going?”

The brilliant Japanese writer Haruki Murakami once wrote, “Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.”

When we are in the moment, we can easily forget that the goal is to connect with the other side, collaborate with them, befriend them, and integrate them into our tribe. We are so caught up in winning that we forget about connecting. It’s easy to spend your energy labeling people rather than working with them.

The word “kind” originated from the word “kin.” When you are kind to someone it means you are treating them like family. This, I think, is a good method for actually changing someone’s mind. Develop a friendship. Share a meal. Gift a book.

Be kind first, be right later.

Let’s discuss this in the Circle…

In this Episode’s Version, INFLUNSR. asked you to read an excerpt from The Lens of Love by Jonathan L. Walton regarding one of the 1,113 names of the war dead engraved on the walls of the Memorial Church at  Harvard University. 

Let’s consider the plagues that the book of Exodus records that God unleashed on Egypt: Blood. Frogs. Lice. Wild Beasts. Pestilence. Boils. Hail. Locust. Darkness. Slaying of the First-born. An elementary reading of these plagues can make each plague seem kind of random. However, a more informed understanding shows that the plagues are full of symbolic meaning. 

The Egyptians considered Pharaoh to be a god, the Nile River was sacred, and the Egyptian goddess of fertility Hequet had a frog’s head. Therefore, the exodus narrative makes a demonstrative theological claim when Yahweh turns the Nile into blood, unleashes frogs throughout the nation, and turns the sun black. The God of the Hebrews is more than just caring and compassionate: He is stronger than all of the gods of Egypt. And the end of the exodus story drives home another point as well: by creating a highway through the Red Sea, Yahweh is a powerful deliverer.  

The exodus is a theological account of an all-powerful God who can save and deliver. 

But have you ever given much thought to any other character in this story other than Moses and Yahweh? What about Egyptian mothers and soldiers? Like Adolf Sannwald, could they be more than just an enemy casualty? 

So let’s consider two things: 

The first is this: in the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “If you want that good feeling from doing the right thing from other people, sometimes you have to pay for it with abuse and misunderstanding.” As a next generation leader, are you prepared for abuse and misunderstanding?

The second thing we want you to consider is that if you are a truth‑teller, when you speak up and speak truth to power and disrupt the status quo, when you give voice to the voiceless, when you give visibility to those who have been rendered invisible, when you actually breathe life of truth into the dry bones of quotidian facts, you might end up being called an enemy casualty or enemy of the people. As a next generation leader, are you OK with being an enemy casualty?

Remember the words of James Russell Lowell, “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet that scaffold sways the future, standeth God within the shadows keeping watch above His own.”

Let’s dive into this in the Circle…

We asked you to watch Dear Evan Hansen, the breathtaking Broadway phenomenon transformed into a soaring cinematic event. 

Let’s take a close look at a few of the lyrics from the moving song The Anonymous Ones from Dear Evan Hansen:

Take a look and you might catch it
Stay a minute more
There’s a little moment after the sunny smile
Their eyes fall to the floor
And then truth starts peeking through
They’re a lot like me and you
They can fake a smile too well
The anonymous ones
Never let you see the hate they carry
All those anonymous ones
Never name the quiet pain they bury
Keep on keeping secrets that they think they have to hide
What if everybody’s secret is they have that secret side?
The parts we can’t tell, we carry them well
But that doesn’t mean they’re not heavy

Let’s be honest: being a high school student is hard. Perhaps you feel the weight of parts you carry well but cannot talk about. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” Ephesians 4:2 encourages us to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” There is an unspoken implication in Paul’s admonishment to the faith community in Ephesus: they were in relationship with each other. A leader worth following does not fly solo. We all have weight that becomes too heavy to carry but too scary to tell. What is that weight for you? Who do you need to tell?

Let’s discuss this in the Circle…

We asked you to listen to an interview between Dr. Russell Moore and activist Shane Claiborne regarding the death penalty. 

Does “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” really mean what we think it does?

Russell Moore is joined by author and activist Shane Claiborne to discuss the death penalty. While Claiborne and Moore both agree that execution should not be celebrated, they differ on whether it is a means of justice.

This is an interesting and counter thought: Shane Claiborne describes restorative justice, proposes that “the road of violence is a dead end,” and emphasizes that “we are not made to kill.” Claiborne and Moore wrestle with the similarities between war and capital punishment and ultimately wrestle with a fundamental question: Has Jesus commanded us to kill?

As a next generation leader worth following, with these sort of moral and ethical issues becoming more and more prevalent, do you believe the death penalty and the way of Jesus are compatible?

Let’s discuss this in the Circle…

We asked you to read the LifeMathMoney article The Decoy Effect: A Fast-Food Menu Trick (With Examples).

The decoy effect is a cognitive bias exploited by companies all around the world to trick you into spending more. It’s so prevalent, that if you’ve ever watched a movie, bought a computer or a phone,  or even ate at a fast-food restaurant – you’ve been a target of and a victim to the decoy effect.

Influence is a choice, and more times than not, every choice that build your leadership leverage is countered by some decoy or default that will actually detract from your ability to be influential. This article from Life Math Money suggests Identifying how much you need, so you don’t end up falling for “I can get so much more for only $X extra.” The natural tendency of our brains is to fall for the trap. We all subconsciously use the decoy for reference, so if we want to avoid falling into the trap, we will have to deliberately consider another reference point.

Hebrews 12:2 describes deliberately considering another reference point this way: “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” How is your life like a fast food menu? How hard is it to keep your eyes on Jesus and off the decoy? 

Time to dive into this in the Circle…

We asked you to watch the Ted Talk “My Journey from Marine to Actor by Adam Driver.

Before he fought in the galactic battles of Star Wars, Adam Driver was a United States Marine with 1/1 Weapons Company. He tells the story of how and why he became a Marine, the complex transition from soldier to civilian — and Arts in the Armed Forces, his nonprofit that brings theater to the military. Because, as he says: “Self-expression is just as valuable a tool as a rifle on your shoulder.” Followed by a spirited performance of Marco Ramirez’s “I am not Batman” by Jesse J. Perez and Matt Johnson. (Adult language)

Adam Driver says, “In the civilian world there’s no rank. Here you’re just another body, and I felt like I constantly had to prove my worth all over again. And the respect civilians were giving me while I was in uniform didn’t exist when I was out of it. There didn’t seem to be a … a sense of community, whereas in the military, I felt this sense of community. How often in the civilian world are you put in a life-or-death situation with your closest friends and they constantly demonstrate that they’re not going to abandon you?” 

Do you feel like you are constantly having to prove your worth over and over again? How can you as a next generation leader worth following create community for you and your peers like Adam Driver describes exists in the military? What do you think of the dramatic reading at the end of this talk?

Let’s discuss this in the Circle…

We asked you to listen to the A Peace of My Mind interview with Bud Welch. 

Bud Welch lost his only child, Julie Marie, in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. She had worked as a translator in the Alfred P. Murrah building for just five months when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blew it up in what remains our nation’s largest domestic terror attack. When Bud saw a news clip of McVeigh’s father, he saw a man who was as lost and broken as he was. Eventually he reached out to Bill McVeigh. The two men became friends, and Bud began to work against the execution of Timothy McVeigh, having realized that his healing process—and his sense of peace—would not involve the death of one more person. Despite Bud’s efforts, McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001, but Bud has gone on to work against capital punishment around the world

There are a few discussion questions at the end of this podcast that are worth us considering: 

  • Have you ever forgiven someone when it was difficult for you? Did forgiving them give you peace?
  • Has someone ever forgiven you when it was likely difficult for them? How did it change the relationship?
  • Have you ever turned something difficult into something positive? How? How did that shift the experience?
  • How do you heal and repair yourself in difficult situations?
  • How does mass violence affect our well being as a society?
  • How does the media shape the way we respond to incidents of mass violence?
  • Are there feelings that you are holding on to that don’t serve you? What would need to happen for you to let them go?

Let’s dive into this in the Circle… 


INFLUNSR’s mission is to fuel the next generation of leaders worth following and to help students learn how to think, not what to think. Any articles posted and questions asked are intended for that sole purpose.

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