A Minor Detail

Friday, July 29, 2011

Slate's advice columnist, Emily Yoffe, provides a dramatic example of the relevance of being thorough about evaluating new information (in particular, about other people) in today's Dear Prudence column. Yoffe takes a question from a woman who had been enjoying a new relationship with a man, but accidentally stumbled onto a very serious question about his character from an unbiased source, whose answer might contradict what she knows (or thinks she knows) about the man.

The woman clearly knows that she must either gain a satisfactory answer to this question or end her relationship with the man, but she is just as clearly fighting denial. Yoffe gives an excellent answer, considering the situation, part of which I excerpt below.

Think about what you've written: You can't seriously be considering trying to mentally deep-six the knowledge that he was arrested for seeking sex with a minor. You can't unlearn what you know, and you must learn what you don't know. He hasn't been straight with you, but you should be with him. Say: "I found out about your arrest. I Googled your name for fun and saw an article. I'd like you to tell me the whole story." Then let him explain, and note his demeanor.
The only thing I would add would be that it is also quite possible that the woman will be unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion one way or the other about the matter, at least within a reasonable amount of time. Given that a good character is essential for a close relationship, I would advise, at least on the level of friendship (and certainly of an intimate relationship!) with the man that she treat an unsatisfactory answer as if it were a bad answer.

The virtue of justice is hard to apply on multiple levels, but its practice is high stakes and it is not a game. Consider this example: This man could be a framed innocent or a dishonest pervert. Among other things, the woman risks, by being wrong in one way or the other, missing out on a satisfying relationship with a good man -- or misplacing her trust with a monster; ruining someone's reputation -- or helping a criminal pass himself off as a member of polite society. And, to top this off, she is in the unenviable position of suddenly having to question the honesty of someone she likes and trusts.

-- CAV

P.S. On a humorous note, I noticed that just after posting this that today is Friday, the day I normally reserve for posts about good news or things I enjoy -- although I do enjoy thinking about philosophy. Chalk one up to lack of sleep caused by caring for a newborn! When I got back from being out of town recently, I was amused that my wife didn't know what day it was. The joke is now, officially, on me.

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