Saturday, September 24, 2016

Would Your Grandma Make The Youth Pastor Spread Rumors About Your Neighbor's Ex-Mother-in-Law If She Did Not Get Paid to Do So? Some Juicy Considerations in Theory of Mind and Social Relationships

Strictly speaking, this question only involves first order theory of mind: Separate but related questions about one's grandmother's thinking and the questioner's basis for the question.  The inquiry might lead one to suspect that the questioner believes that the grandmother in question may be rather greedy and/or that she is mean-spirited.  There could, of course, be socially redeeming reasons for bringing about this gossip--if, for example, the mother-in-law in question is engaging in socially destructive behavior in the community and could be driven out by the damage inflicted on her reputation.  But that is probably not what would come to mind at first glance.

Despite the first order nature of the question, however, the question does raise some interesting issues about social relationships:

  1. The questioner seems to presume some insight into the grandmother's motivations.
  2. The questioner appears to believe that the questionee has the background--based on knowledge of the characters involved--to figure out this rather complicated potential chain of events.
  3. There are assumptions that: (a) the grandmother has some power--whether by way or blackmail or otherwise--over the youth pastor; (b) the youth pastor might be unwilling to spread the rumors on his or her own initiative; (c) the youth pastor would be able to carry out this mission successfully; (d) some unidentified individual may be motivated to pay the grandmother for her efforts; and (e) it is clear from the context or otherwise (i) which youth pastor is implicated, (ii) which neighbor is implicated; and (iii) that either (1) the neighbor in question only has one ex-mother-in-law, (2) the relevant one is clearly implied, or (3) it is not particularly critical which of possible multiple ex-mothers-in-law is targeted--with the possibility that more than one might be targeted, either simultaneously or sequentially.  This is really getting complicated!
There are some thorny issues left unstated in this question, although the questionee might have some potential insight:
  1.  What is the motivation of the questioner?  Is he or she genuinely looking for information or is he or she possibly trying to embarrass the quetionee about his or her grandmother's potentially flawed character--or perhaps to instill pride either in (a) the greed of the grandmother, (b) her apparent evil nature, or (c) her willingness to "do the right thing"--if this is how the compulsion to spread gossip is seen--without being paid?  If the questioner is asking purely for information, is he or she potentially a cheapskate looking to have the rumors spread and wondering if he or she can get away with not paying the grandmother for her potentially valuable services?
  2. Is there any relevance to the fact that the ex-mother-in-law is that of a neighbor, or is that just a way in which she is identified?  How would the neighbor feel about the situation?  He or she may view the rumor attempts favorably as misfortune that a potentially disliked individual deserves to suffer; or, quite possibly, the neighbor may still have some loyalty to a former in-law and could potentially be the real target of a potential conspiracy to injure.  Or it could be that someone is trying to injure both the ex-mother-in-law and the neighbor at the same time.  If the attempt is to injure the ex-mother-in-law, does the individual seeking to accomplish this care one way or the other about any possible impact on the neighbor?
  3. Does the neighbor have a current non-ex-mother-in-law?  How would this potentially affect his or her views about the questions above?
  4. Does the questionee care one way or the other about the fate of the ex-mother-in-law?
  5. Does the questioner care one way or the other?  
  6. Although it is assumed above that the grandmother has some power over the youth pastor, is the choice of this individual as the sub-agent based on the appearance that the agent (the grandmother) has an especially high degree of power over this individual or is the assumption that the youth pastor would be a particularly effective sub-agent?
  7. Would spreading rumors be especially objectionable for a person of the cloth?  In particular, does the youth pastor's charge to minister to the needs of impressionable youth make spreading these rumors even more objectionable than it would be have been if done by other clerics?  Perhaps one might argue that it would have been at least as objectionable for the head pastor to spread the rumors but that the youth pastor's behavior would be more problematic than that of other subordinate ministers.
  8. Could all of the above potentially involve a plot by enemies of the grandmother to find a way to disgrace her, making the ex-mother-in-law merely a potential object of collateral damage?
Of course, these questions could become a whole lot more complicated if we added in issues about parking spot assignments.

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