Definitions

Many conflicts, both large and small, come down to definitions.  

Sometimes the dispute is overt, about the word itself: like the definition of consciousness, or free will, or space; such debates are often political in nature, like defining when life begins, or what terrorism is, or whether waterboarding is torture.

Most of the time however conflict arises between two parties who don’t realize that they each have a different definition for the word in question, or at the very least, a different context for the use of the word. A single example I’ll supply for now is from the state where I live, Ohio.  There is a dispute between a hospital and an Amish family with an 11 yr. old daughter who has cancer.  The family doesn’t want their daughter to go through chemo therapy, and the hospital has filed charges to remove the girl from her family’s care, in order to treat her with cancer (sources). While I believe the files have been dropped, and I do believe there is a lot to say here, I simply want to make one point, that I think that underlying this dispute is a conflict in defining what life is between the two parties.

The hospital sees a life as a biological organism with complex mechanistic functions, and has a goal to maximize the number of heartbeats for that organism.  The Amish see a life as a willful being arrived on a proving ground, the objective is otherworldly, and the number of heartbeats don’t figure as heavily into the equation.  From this point of view each party is trying to preserve life as they define it.  I wonder how much each understands the point of view of he other.

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