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Dr. Jim Sheppard – Dept of Philosophy

Dr. James Sheppard is an associate professor of philosophy at UMKC. He graduated from Binghamton University with a Ph.D. in 2002 and his research focuses on ethics and public policy, environmental ethics, and social and political philosophy. Sheppard has had several works published on a wide range of topics including architecture and sustainability. His forthcoming books, Rethinking Cities and Heartland Green: An Environmental History of Kansas City (coauthored with Dr. John Herron), are breakthroughs in the fields of urban environmentalism and history. Sheppard, who has been a professor at UMKC for 10 years, is an instructor for some of UMKC’s introductory philosophy and ethics classes and has been an active member in the Kansas City community servicing KCPD and The Environmental Protection Agency.

Continuing this semester’s theme, “Inspired and Inspiring,” Dr. Sheppard spoke to the honors students about whom and what inspires him to spend his life as a professor. His presentation highlighted six historical figures along with how each one continues to inspire him after a decade in academia. Sheppard started off with Henry Beston and shared some excerpts from Beston’s book The Outermost House. He reminded students to appreciate the importance of elemental things in the world around them. He used Buddha’s teachings about the role of suffering to encourage students to feel the rhythm of the earth and concentrate on meditating on these elemental things. Going off of Buddha’s beliefs about suffering, Sheppard cited Ralph Waldo Emerson and his ideas of compensation. Students should be reminded that the earth functions as one magnificent system and individuals really are not isolated as they like to think. Sheppard took a moment for all students to take a deep breath and feel the world around them, tying in the fact that our entire system is represented in each individual particle  that makes up the universe.

Sheppard then focused on the daily struggle between what is right and what is wrong. Using Colonel William Eckhardt, a professor at the school of law, as an example, he encouraged students to always stand up for what right, even when it means a large amount of ridicule from peers. Sheppard played off of this idea of doing what is right and brought of the idea of self-transcendence. Like Dr. Catherin Hamlin who has devoted her life to her hospital in Africa to service women suffering from fistula, he wanted students to find meaning in their lives by giving themselves over to cause that they could firmly stand behind. Finally, Sheppard mentioned that UMKC students inspire him and should inspire other students to become self-transcendent in their own lives. He used Hannah Lofthus, a UMKC Honors alumna, and her work in the NYC school district and Kaufmann School as an example of this quality.

Dr. Sheppard ended his presentation by inspiring students to impact the world in the short amount of time that they are alive. He said that students have no reason not to do something and that if one did not know what to do, begin by acknowledging issues that one does not stand for and work to change them in our daily lives.

-Danny W.


  1. Marianne McKenzie says:

    In Honors Colloquium class on February 22nd, Dr. James Sheppard (from the Philosophy department) came to speak about inspiration. Keeping true to the theme of this semester’s class, he spoke about six different people who inspire him and touched on different inspirational values (or actions) that related to his six different inspiring people.

    The first person Dr. Shepperd spoke about who inspires him was Henry Beston, the American writer and naturalist. He gave the class a few of Beston’s quotes from his book The Outermost House, and talked about how Beston emphasized living within the elements. In the quotes, Beston mentions three things that are elemental and inspire him: wind, rain, and the sound of the ocean at Cape Cod. Through Beston’s quotes, Dr. Shepperd made the point that humans need to focus more on connecting with their surroundings. He talked about seeing some birds flying over the highway and being incredulous at their “bravery “and how he was reminded to pay attention to the elemental things in life that will outlast you. Dr. Shepperd emphasized living life to the fullest and rediscovering the joys of nature.

    The second inspirational figure that Dr. Sheppard talked about was Gautama Buddha. He mentioned how Buddha taught that humans need to stay connected to the earth, and how suffering is a vital part of the human condition. Dr. Shepperd also mentioned that, through self-liberation, a person could be more open to helping others. The third inspirational person mentioned Ralph Waldo Emerson. I thought it was really great that Dr. Sheppard mentioned Emerson after Buddha because both figures spoke about the role of suffering in human life, or “compensation”. The inspirational point I took away from this person was that, for everything a person gains, they lose something as well.

    The fourth person Dr. Shepperd was inspired by was Colonel William Eckhardt, a professor in the School of Law here at UMKC. He spoke about how Eckhardt stood up for a good cause, in the face of extreme opposition. The value related to Eckhardt is bravery. The fifth figure that Dr. Shepperd talked about was Dr. Catherine Hamlin. Hamlin moved to Africa and opened a hospital that provides treatment for women who have fistula. Hamlin has provided 34,000 treatments so far at her hospital. I believe that the value related to Catherine Hamlin was self-transcendence, the ability to come out of oneself to focus on others.

    The sixth “figure” that inspired Dr. Shepperd was UMKC students, particularly Hannah Loftus. Loftus wanted to change the world of education, and through many hard years of work in schools in New York, she is now the principal of one of the best schools in the country. Hannah’s story shows us that only one person is needed to change the lives of many others.

    What I took away from this lecture was that true happiness is not found by concentrating solely on improving oneself; through being satisfied with oneself, a person can focus on helping others. I appreciated Dr. Shepperd’s enthusiasm in his lecture as well as his encouraging words for students.

  2. Kathleen Brueggemann says:

    When speaking to the Honors Colloquium class, Dr. Sheppard spoke about six people or ideas that inspired him. I found his passion invigorating and the enthusiasm he felt about these topics left me feeling somewhat inspired myself.

    One of the things that most struck me about Dr. Sheppard’s presentation was the portion in which he talked about always doing what is right, even in the face of ridicule, citing UMKC law professor Colonel William Eckhardt as an example. This principle closely related to two of my other classes this semester. I am currently enrolled in a cross-cultural journalism class, and one of the things we talk about a lot is ethics. A strong code of ethics is vital to any journalist. Dr Sheppard echoed many of the things that my journalism professor has said about standing up for what is right, even at risk of personal loss or angering others.

    I am also a student of accounting, where ethics is extremely important for obvious reasons. It would be easy for an accountant to justify fudging the numbers to help the bottom line. While in some cases this action may not technically be illegal, it is still unethical. Although completely different than the situation Colonel Eckhardt faced, I feel that they have the same underlying principle of having to make a difficult choice to do the right thing.

    One last thing that really struck me about Dr. Sheppard’s presentation was when he was talking about the sunset journal, a record of each day’s sunset “because I don’t know how many I have left”. I was shocked that his students all claimed they didn’t have the time. But after thinking about it, I realized I probably could have found myself saying something along the same lines. It served as a good reminder to take full advantage of each day because life is unpredictable and none of us know how many sunsets we have left. This in itself is a very inspiring concept, and one that I know I will carry forward with me.

  3. Stella Yee says:

    The first time I saw Dr. Sheppard, my eyes were just fixed on the shine of his head. As rude as it was to stare, I still did it, not knowing how the talk on that day was going to be. The week started out real tough for me, which explained why I wasn’t expecting much to happen that day. I was just siting there like a typical student in class. But as soon as Dr Sheppard spoke… things changed.

    I am not sure if it was his tone or the words he used, but there was something in him that made me feel uncomfortable. When I say uncomfortable, it wasn’t in a way that a stranger would make you feel, but rather someone who knows life itself so well that he is able to lay out one by one, the things that you have overlooked in these few decades of life. The book he recommended by Henry Beston is truly a remarkable account of a person’s perspective and observance in the small little details in nature. The book which I had borrowed from Miller Nichols, had a description of the sea view which I absolutely adore. “Journeying bird alight here and fly away again all unseen, schools of great fish move beneath the waves, the surf flings its spray against the sun.” I could imagine myself right there, siting by the sands, watching the sun setting at the horizon as the waves hits on each other, each time splashing its water across the sun. It was beautiful and I wonder why do we not appreciate nature as often as we should have.

    And there is a part where he noted courage as the birds have shown when they fly daringly over the large seas. Not knowing exactly when they will next be able to rest, they still persist through their journey. It’s very much how we students sometimes lack the courage to pursue our dreams. It can be because of the societal norms that most of us follows or just because the existence of expectations of others on us, but most of the time, its because of the financial limitations. We give ourselves excuses that at least with a degree, I will have a secured job, a secured financial standing and if i work hard enough, I will be able to get financial freedom. But what is financial freedom when it comes at a cost of living a dreadful career or life. It reminds me of phrase my friend had told me once, “Do you have financial issues and struggle to survive because of your lifestyle or because of your daily needs? There is a difference between a financial issue caused by struggling to have meals everyday and one caused by your lifestyle of having a car you can’t afford and your meals at Michelin restaurants.”

    Dr Sheppard had also mentioned how Buddha notes that at the very end of life, everything goes back to nature. It is amazing how small we are compared to the universe. This connects with me directly. Having astronomy as my minor always works as a gentle pat on the shoulder reminding me that we are all insignificant to the evolution of the universe. With the birth or death of a human, it doesn’t affect the least bit to the interaction of the stars or the galaxies outside our Solar System. But what I can do as a person, is to continuously learn about myself and connect with myself spiritually.

    By Ralph Waldo Emerson, Dr Sheppard noted that “for everything you lose, you gain something”. I agree, because every single time we help someone, deep inside, do we not all do it because we know that it will make us feel good inside? Like empathy and compassion, is two very strong values that propel us to think in the shoes of others, but at the end of the day, for every action we take to help someone, we are helping ourselves to be a better person too. From another perspective, these compensations is related to what Colonel William Eckhardt had said, “Standing for what’s right in the face of what’s wrong.” When we know what’s best for ourselves when we are in another’s position, we would know what is best to do, but the question comes again to whether or not we have the courage to do it, right then, right there.

    These things are not the common subjects people discuss in their daily lives, but these are characters that helps a person live a fulfilling LIFE. It is all inter-related I believe, as life is on this Earth. Dr Sheppard came at the right time at the right place for me. He does not only have a shiny head but a shiny heart too, to bring light into the shadiest corners of humanity.

  4. Sara Platt says:

    I was very intrigued with Dr. Sheppard’s presentation. The fact that he was able to tie in the most elemental things into the large picture was fascinating. As a speaker, he was able to keep my attention very well and he was also engaging. He allowed us to go on a journey through the past, to the present, to the future with him. I was most intrigued by the way the minute things can affect everyday life. Remembering to get back into the elements and see the bigger picture was a good moral. Each story consisted of one person who is making a change in the way they live their life; they live for the benefit of others. It is amazing how people who want to help others are still around and not a group that is going extinct, either. The world will stay the same if I do nothing to help change it but it all starts with us: the believers, the thinkers of tomorrow, the students of UMKC. Dr. Sheppard’s presentation is one that will make me view my life differently with each thing that I do and also ask my self how what I am doing with my life is going to benefit others.

  5. Mike Murphy says:

    “A man is what he thinks about all day.” That is another Ralph Waldo Emerson quote. I help hold the universe together. Silly? Sometimes I just need a kick in the face to be inspired. Compelled is a word that also comes to mind. Dr. Sheppard managed to do both.

    Dr. Sheppard, not only a friend of the Honors program, teaches PHIL 210, and his interdisciplinary approach includes Environmental Ethics, Urban and Environmental Issues, plus he has penned a book with Dr. Herron entitled Rethinking Cities and Heartland Green: An Environmental History of Kansas City. Succeeding in keeping with the semester’s theme, Dr. Sheppard was able to share with the class inspiration from his field. Starting with elemental things, we were presented with the image of a single flock of birds, or a school of fish that move as if possessed of one mind. The fish and the birds might just as well be one spirit. An aspiring conductor of music such as myself should take lots of time to observe the sunsets nature has to offer. I’ve learned in my conducting classes that developing a vocabulary of gestures require a high degree of inspiration. It’s not a wonder Mayans could construct so accurately a calendar, or Egyptians could build the Great Pyramids of Giza. Long ago, before the whirs, hums and distraction of electronic devices, they could probably feel the Earth throb.

    Regarding Buddha, I was reminded of one of the quotes in Vietnamese that my Mother tells me, “gần đất xa trời” that, translated would mean “I’m getting older son, getting further from the sky and closer to the Earth.”

    On compensation, the thoughts I had were of multiple universes and dimensions existing within the cosmos. This was most stimulating. This means that every particle, every thought I have, every decision and every move I make has consequence. Hearing the lecture was reaffirming and empowering. I was right about a lot. What I knew was already true. Within all good lies a bit of evil. Within all evil lies a bit of good. This is what some may attribute to the “yin yang.”

    After the lecture, I was not just inspired, but compelled to listen to songs from the two jazz albums Dr. Sheppard recommended. One “Winter Moon” by jazz saxophonist Art Pepper and Horace Silver’s “Songs For My Father.” He encouraged the class to take advantage of free admission to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for inspiration. I am empowered. I inspire. What I knew was already true. My actions on this side of the Earth can have an effect on the other side. It means every choice we make and every thought we think has consequence, for “a man is what he thinks about all day.”

  6. Nick Weiler says:

    Dr. Sheppard came to colloquium to speak to us about inspiration. He described 6 people that have inspired him throughout his life and told their stories in hopes that they would also inspire us.

    I’m glad I was chose to write about him (even a month late as I was originally assigned to write much later in the semester and I never noticed that the date changed) as he was one of my favorite speakers that we have had, and I would loved to have him as my philosophy 210 teacher as I did not enjoy mine.

    I thought it was really neat how the last person he chose was a past student of his, as most of the people he had mentioned were famous and it showed that someone does not have to be a national icon to inspire a person. Overall the lecture did inspire me as I left the class refreshed and refocused on my goals in life.

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