The Moral and Psychological Landscape of Chit Chat: Toward a Theological Hermeneutic of Everyday Conversation by ProQuest


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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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