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Dirty Hands at U of M

October 23, 2010

     A recent U-M study which had participants lie during phone calls and in e-mails come out with interesting results. Those participants who lied over the phone wanted to wash their mouths with mouthwash compared to others who lied in an e-mail wanted to clean their hands with hand sanitizer. Well others who did not lie found little need to cleanse their bodies.                

        This experiment relates back to the idea presented by Walzer; more specifically, it is more support for the Catholic Model of dirty hands. Walzer explains that one has the ability to atone for his or her sins, or the act that made ones hands dirty, in some sort of manner.  However, can one really simply wash away guilt? Is it really possible to send a nasty email to someone and tell lies and then use some mouthwash and make it seem like the words were never written or spoken? According to the Catholic model this is true.

                If it were always as simple as using some hand sanitizer or mouthwash to literally wash away ones sins, I would think that sin even though it is already commonplace, would be seen as acceptable. Also, the products to rid oneself of dirt only apply to hands and mouths since they are the most common parts of the body that complete the sins, but what happens if one commits a sin through the use of another body part? For example, if a ruler steps on the feet of the lower class, what does he do to cleanse himself?

                Personally, I think that dirty hands can actually account for any type of trouble one gets himself or herself into. For example, if I give someone a nasty look that offends them. I may feel guilty for being rude with my facial expression, but  my hands are still dirty as a matter of expression.

                From the Protestant view, since one cannot repent for his or her sins, the experiment really holds no value. Since from this view once a person is a sinner he is always a sinner; the guilt cannot be washed away.

                Like Lady Macbeth who yells for a spot to be removed from her hand to free her from the sins she has committed, the recent study shows that people find relief in washing away the “dirt” that has accumulated from guilt; it reinforces the idea that “metaphorical links are between abstract and concrete domains of life (U-M Study).”

                The most important point that the U-M study shows is that dirty hands are everywhere. Rulers in history have dealt with the dilemma of dirty hands and rulers and common people still deal with the issue today.

  1. Taylor Fields permalink
    October 24, 2010 5:33 PM

    This study sounds really interesting and its a great correlation you’ve introduced to our reading. Your reference to Macbeth (Out, out damn spot) was also a solid example of how our guilt can be tangibly seen, or seem to taint part of our body. ‘Dirty hands’ both metaphorically and physically have been used through out history, as Shakespeare exemplified and as the study supported. Your blog was a great connection from our class and a (dead) writer, to a modern day example.

  2. Lorig Stepanian permalink
    October 24, 2010 6:10 PM

    The protestant idea of once a sinner always a sinner, and therefore one who sins is tainted for life, seems to be a little bit unrealistic in this day and age. The fact is, many people don’t recognize they are “dirtying their hands” as they are doing it and realize later what they did was wrong once they have seen the consequences.

  3. Lorig Stepanian permalink
    October 24, 2010 6:15 PM

    Sorry I didn’t finish my last comment and it accidentally was posted. The truth is that we are all considered human beings for a reason, and are expected to sin. That is why we live on earth and must dirty our hands throughout our daily experiences. Although it is not a good thing to step on others to achieve goals, and it should be avoided when possible, if you are able to recognize what you have done is wrong and try not to do it again then you are not automatically considered a terrible person.

  4. seangordon permalink
    October 24, 2010 9:00 PM

    This is an interesting connection indeed. I do think that in many instances, the dilemma of dirty hands for a ruler and that for a common person is different considering the fact that a ruler’s decisions often affect a much larger group of people (which is arguably in turn, often of greater moral or physical consequence). While the decision of a common man would not affect such a large group. I also agree that our sins cannot easily be washed away with some Purell but the natural inclination to want to do so certainly makes sense. Its clear as per Walzer among other writers have posited, that sometimes, metaphorically dirty hands are really the dirtiest hands of all.

  5. crorey permalink
    October 25, 2010 11:31 AM

    This is a very interesting study. I have never felt inclined to clean my mouth after I lie. Could this be because when I lie I do it to my advantage. It seems in the study that the subjects felt guilty because there wasn’t really a reason for them to lie, but that is just a guess. Also, I wish this study addressed why we have a consciene? Is there an evolutionary advantage for people feeling bad about lying and telling the truth? Maybe it is because those who get caught lying don’t get as much support from their peers compared to those who don’t lie, so this would cause humans to tell the truth in order to better preserve themselves.

  6. Jorge Rodriguez-Larrain permalink
    October 25, 2010 7:35 PM

    The study seems very intriguing, although I think that it is important to consider many factors in the investigation that could make it less reliable, but from the results it can be inferred that people have a “conscience” that tells them what is wrong, this idea is closely attached to morality, as it depends on the person’s moral code that the individual will feel guilty, which could lead the person to want to “cleanse themselves”.

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