The Great Moral Dilemma of Our Time

In my class, my students just read “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin, and to facilitate class discussion I asked my students to write a paragraph at the beginning of class answering the question, “Which is more valuable: Love or Self-Actualization?” 

The results were about a 60/40 tendency towards Self-Actualization over 3 different sections. A common sentiment, however, was that the two went together. You can’t love someone, they told me, until you can love yourself. Or a good significant other will help you achieve your life dreams and goals. 

However, for the sake of philosophical purity I wanted to force a choice between the two, even though such a choice might be a false dichotomy. So I proposed the following situation: you and your significant other sit down one evening and, while browsing the internet, discover that both of your favorite bands will be playing in town that night. The bands are not the same, and both are, respectively, the band that each of you has worshiped or followed for a long time. You have both dreamed of seeing each of these bands live, and both of you only have a nominal affection for the other’s favorite band. 

Now, due to some circumstances that don’t need to be detailed, you only have enough money or transportation or whatever to attend the same concert. You can’t split up, and you can’t use the money for something else (like dinner and a movie). 

So, what do you do? Do you go see your wife/husband’s favorite band and sacrifice your own affections? Or do you convince him/her of the greater merits and opportunity of seeing your favorite band?

My students continually wanted to add other variables to the equation, but this is not allowed. There are only those two choices.

It was great fun to work through this as a class and then apply our findings to the stories we read. The key questions in my mind are “what do you want to do?” “What do you feel like you should do?” and “why do you feel this way, do you think; where does that feeling of should come from?”


About Derrick

Derrick lives and works in South Carolina where he teaches English at a technical college and raises his two small children with his wife, Danielle.
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