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The Good Place: A society to match the scenery (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and neighboring)


A separate peace (20 of 24)
   The way of the teacher


The sort of learning that often leads to a commitment to genuine peace is illustrated in A Separate Peace, a text that was popular in high school classrooms for many years. It’s a good, teachable novel, and part of what works about it in high school classrooms is that adolescents are in the stage of life where the reality of friendship is first being explored with near adult intelligence.

The book clarifies the extent to which our friends–other people in general–exist in our consciousness partly as fictions that we’ve created ourselves. The images we have of other people are based partly on inferences we make, and sometimes our inferences are wrong.

In the course of the story, the protagonist, Gene, experiences several versions of his friend, Phineas. The tragedy occurs when Gene “understands” that Phineas has not been inviting him on adventures out of pure friendship but as part of a strategy to wreck his studies. He isn’t a true friend at all. Gene suddenly sees a pattern in their relationship and makes a meaning of it: He sees all of his friend’s overtures as deceptions intended to cause him harm. “That explained blitzball, that explained the nightly meetings of the Super Suicide Society, that explained his insistence that I share all his diversions. The way I believed that you’re-my-best-friend blabber! The shadow falling across his face if I didn’t want to do something with him!”

This isn’t Gene’s first version of Phineas, and it isn’t the last, but Gene acts upon it as though he were certain it was true. When he learns that however plausible his theory of Finny’s behavior it was still only a theory and it was wrong, it is too late. Gene comes to see that he told himself a lie about another person, then believed his lie, and that this dishonesty, his accepting a version of reality without sufficient evidence, caused the death of his friend.

In less dramatic ways, we daily harm each other when we accept interpretations about why others are doing what they are doing without good enough reason. We see this most clearly when we ourselves become the victim of someone else’s false theory about us.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey

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