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Moral Talk Across the Lifespan

Creating Good Relationships

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Edited By Vince Waldron and Douglas Kelley

Grounded in path-breaking research but written in an accessible, engaging style Moral Talk Across the Lifespan explores how our most fundamental moral commitments are shaped by crucial conversations with family members, romantic partners, and friends. Taking a lifespan approach, the authors demonstrate that moral growth is a continual process, one stimulated by transitions (e.g., leaving home for university) and disruptive events (serious illness). With chapters penned by leading relationship scholars, the volume contributes original thinking, data, and innovative theoretical pathways for researchers. For instructors it explores pressing moral questions encountered by students in their own relationships with romantic partners, friends, parents, and other family members. When is revealing a secret the right thing to do? Is revenge ever a worthy response to an insult or sleight? Why are young adults persuaded to accept some of their parents’ values but not others? Is there a right (or wrong) way to support a parent facing a terminal illness?
Moral Talk Across the Lifespan offers a stimulating blend of social science research and moral reflection. It is a key text for courses in Relational Communication, Family Communication, Interpersonal Communication, and Communication Ethics.
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Chapter Five: Morality and Family Communication When Coping with Cancer

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CHAPTER FIVE

Morality AND Family Communication When Coping WITH Cancer

CARLA L. FISHER & BIANCA WOLF



We are increasingly presented with health messages about how one “should” go about living a healthy life or attend to an illness, assigning responsibility to individuals as moral agents of their bodies (Sontag, 1978). When individuals become ill, at any point in the lifespan, attributions of responsibility for their health status can insinuate failure on their part to live properly or correctly (Broom & Whittaker, 2004). They can feel pressured to cope (or survive) in the “right” way. Likewise, their families feel morally obligated to respond in the “right” way by facilitating and not inhibiting their loved one’s survival. Patients and families not only negotiate such moral commitments within their family where norms of “right or wrong” behavior are first developed, but also simultaneously navigate societal norms that apply “moral and psychological pressure” on how they should be coping (de Raeve, 1997, p. 249). Ultimately, these moral discourses about managing illness might both enhance and challenge illness experiences.

More attention is being paid to helping families develop healthy communication approaches to manage illness, but rarely is morality considered an important factor in how they cope. Likewise, even though morality may drive how one copes (or what one deems to be the right way to manage illness), their behavior may not be aligned with the “right” health outcomes. In this chapter we...

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