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Truth and Consequences

Remember the old kids’ game Truth or Consequences?  IF’s exploratory discussions don’t allow participants to get off the hook by choosing one or another.  On the contrary, they put participants in the position of exploring what they really believe—that’s the “truth” part—and the consequences of their beliefs.

What ties these together? —Values, purposes, aims, goals, feelings, principles, norms: in short, the things that people use to evaluate or judge or assess consequences.  The interactivity isn’t just important, it’s inescapable.  Consequences only matter for some reason, when put in some framework.  Likewise, reasons and frameworks remain pure abstractions until we think of their consequences.

The interactivity between consequences and values helps explain why we very often tend to think of moral and political choices in terms of personal and social “identity.”  We ask not: Are such and such results likely to be good? but rather Is this the sort of thing a person like me—or a society like ours—does?  (According to psychologists, this seems to be all the more true when the issue isn’t just thinking something through, but acting on our conclusions.  See the recent bestseller Switch by Chip and Dan Heath [New York: Broadway Books, 2010. pp. 154, 160-161].)

But just because something’s “inescapable” doesn’t mean it’ll be well met.  IF public discussion facilitators and participants alike can play the game of Truth and Consequences well or poorly.  Playing it well means fully exploring the interactivity between the two elements.  It means answering the question Who do we want to become?