Good vs. Bad

As the father of two young children, I often think I have a decent handle on the whole good and bad behavior thing. And yet, as any parent can tell you, defining what constitutes such behaviors can often be a difficult and dizzying proposition. Just the other day, I had a conversation with my 10-year-old son about when it’s OK to lie – or, as I attempted to gently put it, “leave out information.” In this instance, my son didn’t want to hurt another friend’s feelings when he found himself having to choose between play-dates. Unfortunately, when we concluded our talk, my son seemed more perplexed than when we started.

Watching the Republican and Democratic conventions these last couple of weeks made me even more mindful of the good/bad behavior notion, and though my son’s still a little too young to understand the art of political spinning, I anticipate some interesting discussions in the years to come about how candidates for office can simultaneously inspire and lie. How our favorite athletes can transcend the competition, but also cheat. How journalists can expose moral wrongdoings, yet act wrongly themselves by plagiarizing or making up sources.

This year’s “Themester” at IU Bloomington invites staff and students to take part in a conversation about what constitutes good and bad behaviors.

Anyone who’s ever grappled with these concerns will almost certainly appreciate this year’s “Themester” at IU Bloomington, an initiative organized by the College of Arts and Sciences. Themester 2012, “Good Behavior, Bad Behavior: Molecules to Morality,” will explore the delicate meanings of good and bad behavior, how we attempt to judge the two and the limits of distinguishing between them.

This year’s event encompasses a series of more than 40 courses and more than 100 events, including exhibitions, films, lectures and plays, most of which are free and open to the public. In addition to applying the collective wisdom of IU faculty, staff and students toward analyzing good and bad behavior, it will also feature a number of notable activists, artists, public officials and scholars from around the country. Guests include Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary and now senior adviser to the Obama reelection campaign, and Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to former President George W. Bush, who will be on campus to discuss political behavior just a few weeks before the 2012 presidential election. They also include Chaz Bono, author, LGBT rights advocate and child of entertainers Sonny and Cher, as well as internationally acclaimed film director Werner Herzog. Remarkably, Herzog’s here on campus all this week to reflect upon his artistic vision and philosophies and help screen part of his extensive filmography, which has been lauded for its unique examination of irrational, eccentric behavior. (See the award-winning 2005 documentary “Grizzly Man,” showing at IU Cinema Friday evening.)

As excited as I am to explore good and bad behavior through the filmmakers’ lens, I’m equally intrigued by what promise to be fascinating discussions that encompass everything from medicine to mathematical functions (which, as the Themester website points out, can be described as well- or badly-behaved) molecules (who knew water molecules could behave badly?) and even those moral machines better known as robots.

Speaking of which, if only there was a robot sitter who could watch the kids while I attended a few of these discussions. Would that be considered bad behavior?

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