Transcending Conflict

An NPR story described how an otherwise unsuperstitious man advised his wife on driving out the house elf that she blamed for hiding her things.

If the man’s goal was to eliminate superstition from his wife’s thinking, then he probably faced a daunting task: undoing a lifetime of indoctrination in, enablement of, and reinforcement of superstitious beliefs. If his wife is like many people, his difficulties would have been compounded by her resistance to taking personal responsibility, when she could readily blame external forces.

If the man’s goal was to help his wife keep track of her things, then the easiest (most likely to succeed) way for them to accomplish this was for him to exploit her superstition and predisposition to blame. He might suggest a concrete behavior on her part but present it in the guise of a ritual or spell to drive out—and keep out—the elf.

The former approach seems more ethical because of its transparency. However, it also seems like a foolish attempt to change some one in a fundamental way, an attempt doomed to escalating conflict and ultimate failure. Not only will the immediate problem remain unsolved, the superstition is likely to be more deeply entrenched. The approach also holds the temptation for the husband to indulge his ego by demonstrating “superior” knowledge of reality.

The latter approach seems manipulative, disingenuous, hypocritical or otherwise unethical. However, it also seems like a wise method focused on a shared achievable goal. The husband arrests his egotistical impulses in order to solve the immediate problem as well as build trust.

Tags: Philosophy

Updated at: 19 August 2008 12:08 AM

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