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Moral Talk Across the Lifespan

Creating Good Relationships


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 Six: Negotiating Morality Through Poetic Justice


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Negotiating Morality Through Poetic Justice



Every culture is characterized by moral guidelines that provide an ideal for the relationship between the self and other. Haste and Abrahams (2008) explain, “Underlying them [moral theories or guidelines] are not just values, but assumptions about the relationships that underpin human interdependence in that society and therefore underpin the codes that sustain the moral order” (p. 384). This interpersonal moral order, or ethic of community (Shweder, Much, Mahapatra, & Park, 1997), not only guides interpersonal relating, but arises from it, as it is “through dialogue we acquire and negotiate the frames and lenses to view, value and legitimate our experience” (Haste & Abrahams, p. 382).

Our chapter addresses how relationship parties negotiate norms and expectations of what is moral and ethical relating through the enactment and retelling of certain revenge scenarios. On first blush, it might seem peculiar to find a chapter that focuses on revenge in a volume devoted to moral communication in good relationships. Interpersonal scholars often presume that relating parties are motivated to function cooperatively (Grice, 1989) to sustain the moral aspects of the social order and the social interests and identities of both parties (Brown & Levinson, 1987; Goffman 1959, 1967). This presumption, of course, is the scholarly equivalent of the infamous Golden Rule, which says “Do...

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