Friday, December 03, 2004

The morality of a good wife swap

I enjoyed an American episode of Wife Swap the other day. There was a real contrast between the wives, Jodi the heiress with her multi-nanny family and Lynn the self-employed, hands-on mum. The satisfaction of seeing Jodi and Brad overcoming their initial antipathy to become good friends was balanced by the real-world failure of Lynn and Steve to get on.

Wife Swap can get stuck in the obvious UK class warfare rut, but at its best the participants overcome prejudices and preconceptions, and learn to value their relationships and other people in general over the more superficial attractions of ostentatious consumption, ideological correctness, or slobbing out.

I think that humans hunger for morality. I don't agree entirely with Chesterton that "[W]hen people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything", but I do think that when people stop taking their morality from authority they'll look for it everywhere else in life, discounting the didactic, seeking whatever is vivid, real and shared.

Wife Swap is a perfect match for these needs - the basic conflict in each episode may be a setup, but whatever happens next is down to the participants. The values and personal skills that emerge are perfectly suited to a secular, diverse society - real, non-vacuous and admirable to believers and skeptics alike. It can only be a matter of time before Wife Swap appears on the Today Programme's Thought for the Day. And why not?

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