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Witnessing a moral dialogue
By Orson Scott Card September 1, 2011

Father: What did you do, Charlie?

Charlie: I was building a city with blocks and she came in and kicked it down —

F: We'll talk about that soon enough. But we can't get anywhere until —

C: I didn't want to play with her right then. She doesn't have a right to —

F: What. Did. You. Do?

C: I hit her.

F: Let's be a little more specific.

C: In the head. With a block. This block.

F: And what was the result of your action?

C: She cried, and Mom told you, and now I'm in so much trouble.

F: Not the result to you. The result to her head, when the block hit it.

C: A goose egg.

F: Any bleeding? Was she knocked unconscious?

C: No.

F: So it could have been worse.

C: (brightening) That's right.

F: Did you plan your blow so that it would be exactly hard enough to raise a goose egg but not break the skin or knock her unconscious?

C: I didn't have a plan.

F: So it's not actually your fault that it wasn't worse. It could have been, and you had no way of knowing in advance how bad it would be.

C: You're not going to punish me for what didn't happen but might have, are you?

F: I want you to face up to what your action could have done, and which you couldn't have prevented once you acted.

C: That's not even fair!

F: If you caused permanent brain damage to your sister, and she lived the rest of her life in a wheelchair, or lost her ability to speak, or her sight, that wouldn't be fair, but it would still be the consequence of your action.

C: But that didn't happen!

F: What did you think would happen when you hit her?

C: I don't know.

F: What did you intend?

C: She just walked through and kicked down everything I'd built!

F: Would hitting her build it all up again?

C: No, but I wanted her never to do it again!

F: So if you caused brain damage so she couldn't ever walk —

C: No! I didn't want to hurt her, I just — I was so angry, she was so mean —

F: You felt anger. So you decided to let that anger have control of your body and do whatever it wanted. Charlie, anger is a stupid monster. It doesn't care how hard it hits. It just lashes out. But afterward, you have to face the consequences of what you let the monster do.

C: So I'm supposed to just let her wreck everything?

F: Are the blocks still here? Is the plan still in your head? Can you make it again? Did she really wreck everything?

C: Do I have to stop what I'm doing whenever she decides?

F: No, you don't.

C: She thinks she owns me.

F: Apparently she does. She has the power to make you hit her. All she has to do is kick down your city.

C: She didn't want me to hit her! She wanted me to go out and play.

F: Your body belongs to you. God gave it to you. I can't make it hit — or not hit. Neither can your sister. Your body obeys only you. It's your kingdom, and you're the king. So you're responsible for what it does. If you let the monster rule your kingdom, then you've decided to be the monster. Is that who you want to be? Because that would break my heart. And it would wreck your life.

C: I don't want to be the monster.

F: Then when you're angry, you need to push the anger away, and let your spirit, that child of God inside you, keep control.

C: I get so mad! I can't help it!

F: Maybe not yet. So you practice now, while you're young, and it's just a block in your hand; you practice resisting it until you get stronger than the anger. so that later, when you're tall and strong, and there's a knife or a gun in your reach, your spirit will still be in control. Not the monster.

C: Why couldn't she just wait? I told her I'd go outside and play with her as soon as I was done with my city. Why couldn't she wait?

F: She has her own monster, Charlie. And she's younger than you. She's had less practice. She doesn't understand as much as you do. But I'll work with her, too. It takes time. You've gotten better at controlling your passions, you really have. You've made terrific progress. I've seen you be patient many, many times.

C: (Crying a little.) I didn't think you knew that.

F: I watch you all the time, getting better and stronger and wiser. It brings me more joy than anything. You're getting so close.

C: Close to what?

F: To being like Jesus.

C: I'm not that good.

F: But you're trying to be. So am I. So's your mother. So is Erinel. Really. She's just little. She won't always be little. She'll get tall and smart and beautiful and you'll be so proud of her. But when she's a grownup, Charlie, do you want her to think of her childhood and remember how she was afraid of you?

C: No.

F: What do you want her to remember?

C: Us playing together. And me being nice. Even when she broke my city of blocks. (Cries again.)

F: (Holding him.) And she will remember you that way, Charlie, because that's how you usually are, and because little children forgive the ones they love.

Next time: The second moral dialogue.

Copyright © 2011 by Orson Scott Card

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