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Journal of Psychology and Christianity Copyright 2010 Christian Association for Psychological Studies 2010, Vol. 29, No. 1, 41-45 ISSN 0733-4273 The Moral and Psychological Landscape of Chit Chat: Toward a Theological Hermeneutic of Everyday Conversation Richard Beck Abilene Christian University The article integrates psychological and theological perspectives to illuminate the moral issues confront- ed in normal, workaday conversation. Specifically, the agency/communion circumplex, a dominant model in personality theory, is used to create a psychologically and theologically informed hermeneutic to ana- lyze the moral issues latent in simple everyday discourse. After creating the agency/communion hermeneutical apparatus the model is applied to three morally complex features of everyday conversation: Truth-telling, gossip, and humor usage. The value of the agency/communion hermeneutical model is demonstrated by its ability to make salient many of the moral issues hidden in everyday conversations as well as in its ability to pose important moral discernment questions. As social creatures most of our waking lives is personality is the agency and communion cir- spent talking with other people. These wide- cumplex (Wiggins, 1991). Informally, the agency ranging moments of communication span the and communion motives are often framed, trivial to the vital. At work or at play, at home or respectively, as “getting ahead” versus “getting at church, human life is full of conversation. along.” Specifically, agentic motives involve And yet, many of us fail to realize how morally needs for status, achievement, control, and dom- treacherous and complicated simple conversa- inance. By contrast, communal motives involve tion can be. The biblical witness suggests that motives toward affiliation, connection, intimacy, we be “slow to speak” and be wary of the and cooperation. The personality dimensions of “tongue.” But this advice only goes so far. What agency and communion, as introduced by Bakan is needed is a practical tool of discernment (1966), have a long theoretical and empirical his- devoted to assessing the moral complications tory going back to ancient Greece (see that arise in simple everyday conversation. With McAdams, Hoffman, Mansfield, & Day, 1996, for such a hermeneutic in hand we would be better a good historical overview) and they continue to equipped to manage the moral pitfalls that await influence psychological research today. us, particularly those we encounter around the Of particular concern from a spiritual perspec- Monday morning water cooler. tive is that agency motives are focused on prof- Toward that end, this article will present a itability of the self while communion is focused hermeneutic of everyday conversation based upon on the profitability of other persons (Abele & the dominant agency/communion circumplex in Wojciszke, 2007). Consequently, Christians psychology. That is, in everyday conversation should be concerned with agentic motives when there arise opportunities to enhance and further needs for control and status begin to trump rela- the prospects of the Self versus the prospects of tionship and community. Perhaps the clearest the Other. In order to show the hermeneutic in theological critique of agentic self-interest is the action the article will use the model to analyze the agentic and communal dynamics across three Kenosis Hymn of Philippians 2. Specifically, ubiquitous features of everyday conversation: Christ does not cling to a high status position but Humor usage, gossip, and lying. rather empties (kenosis) himself to take on the form of an obedient servant. Christ does this for Agency, Communion, and the Kenosis Hymn our benefit. In short, the Christian ethic claims One of the most parsimonious models in psy-
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