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Orson Scott Card: Witnessing a moral dialogue

Published: Thursday, Sept. 1 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

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.

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