Ethics Poll: The Talent Show

Perhaps you have had this experience. If not, please try to imagine. You go to a talent show--skating show, theater competition, dance thing, whatever--to see your child perform. At the beginning there's a huge audience. But then, as the kids perform, the audience gets smaller and smaller. Some parents are leaving after their own child performs.

At one event I attended, the air conditioning wasn't working well. This was in the middle of a very hot summer in Dallas. People were leaving in droves, so that the kids in the last act had to perform to a handful of adults. This was an extreme case, but at any talent show, some people stay to the end and some leave as soon as their own delightful child is done. The audience at the end is always smaller than it was at the beginning.

Do you have to stay after your kid performs? If so, why? The poll is below. You can take it over there in the sidebar to the right.

Is it OK for you to leave right after your child performs at a talent show? How would you think about the issue? (Assume there are no extra factors, like another child who needs to be picked up or a sudden migraine, etc.)
  1. I would stay if I felt like it, leave if I felt like it.
  2. I would think I owed it to the parents who watched my child perform to stay and watch their child perform.
  3. I would not want to hurt the feelings of the later children, so I would stay.
  4. I would contemplate what it would be like if everyone left after their own child's performance, and stay.
  5. I would ask myself how I would want people to treat me if I happened to have a child late in the show.
  6. I would stay or go depending on which would maximize total happiness of all concerned.
  7. I would have a combination of [two or more of] the thoughts above. [Clarification!]
  8. Other.
I've tried to list all the thoughts a person realistically might have, but do tell me if you think I've left something out.

Naturally, I do have a hypothesis about what the poll will reveal, and what that "means." But let's see what happens. Stay tuned!

more here


Anonymous said...

I would stay because of 3 4 and 5 UNLESS I had some pressing reason to go, involving a duty to someone else (visit aunt in hospital, pick other child up after their activity, sort of thing.

Is that 7 or 8? It's not 6 because I wouldn't count my own boredom in.

I would just have voted, but I thought other people might have this reaction, and only one person has voted so far.

Jean Kazez said...

Let me fix this to make it explicit that you have no pressing reason to leave. That will make your answer 7--because you've got a combination of reasons. I can't change the answers at this point, but I can make the question clearer.

pj said...

7,6,4,3 - but mostly 4 so that's what I voted. I don't have any kids though - so it is a bit hypothetical.

Unknown said...

No kids, but a lot of cats. Does that count? :-)

I'd stay, for the simple reason that it's quite rude to do otherwise. Manners are important.

Those who depart after their child has competed are basically saying "I can't be bothered being polite". Nice, hmm?

Carolyn Ann

Jean Kazez said...

I had thought about pet shows, but there's not that much of an audience set-up there. (Then again, in "Best in Show" maybe there was...?)

Politness. Hmm. I hadn't thought of that option. I probably should have vetted the options before setting up the poll, but there's no turning back! That's presumably "other."

Anonymous said...

I would stay (number 3). To leave for anything except a pressing or emergency reason clearly indicates that your interest is only in your own child and not even truly in the skill they are developing which is presumably important to them and so also to me (in my family's case dance). My child always wanted to stay after her performance. She had a genuine love of dance and interest in how and what others were doing. I also agree that it is simple politeness to stay. This is a performance. It's rude to walk out in the middle of a performance. If you leave early you are teaching that it is ok to be rude to children.

Ophelia Benson said...

I voted yesterday, but didn't think to comment.

I would stay because of 2-5 - and very strongly because of 3. 3 would keep me nailed to my seat (and looking enthralled, clapping madly, etc) unless the building actually caught fire. I'm phobic about hurting people's feelings - I mean really phobic: the mere thought of it makes me squirm with discomfort.

I'm not sure why rudeness is different from all that. Why is it rude? Because of 2-5, no? Isn't that what those reasons are about? I always do think of manners as a matter of ethics.

Anonymous said...


There's already plenty of selfishness and rudeness in the world, without adding to it.

Doesn't mean I'd enjoy staying, though (I remember a particularly excruciating 3-hour primary school ballet I had to sit through. I still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder years later..)!

Arnaud said...

2 other possibilities:
1 - I might genuinely enjoy the show and/or wait for the chance to see something actually worth the wait. Your poll seems to postulate the fact that kids talent shows are a real shore. But then, I have no kids, so what do I know?
2 - And I think that is what your #2 allude to, there is a kind of tacit contract you agree to when you attend such a show, a kind of solidarity basically. Some of your commentators spoke of rudeness as well, which is most of the time a good word for this sort of breach of tacit agreement. So if the truly moral reason is #6, a sort of Kantian imperative, the social reason would be #2, an obligation to the community...

Anonymous said...

I probably only enjoy talent shows in which my own kids perform. There's the guilty pleasure of seeing who does worse than your own kid and the challenge of dealing with who does better. That adds to the entertainment value. It's a pretty shameful thing to admit to. Not ethically relevant though, of course.

Anonymous said...

2 & 3 struck me immediately as "sounding right" - which seems the best approach to take when considering moral intuitions (which seems to be in part the goal of this poll). Reciprocity and sympathy. Hmm. How... interesting.

Anonymous said...

3 & 4 -- I wouldn't worry particularly about doing the right thing by the other parents, or expect them to take my feelings into account, because it's trumped by the need to do the right thing by the kids, not adults in the audience.

Anonymous said...

Like Arnaud says, 1) needs to comprise actuallly enjoying the show, or feeling as though some effort has been put into it.

The size of the remaining crowd plus whether or not people are leaving quickly and noticeably would also be a factor.

Thing with 6 is that it is very ill-defined.

Anonymous said...

6 is an attempt to provide a Utilitarian option. I was trying to make it sound natural, like something that might run through someone's mind, but it was difficult.

Anonymous said...

I voted 7. It would be difficult to get at 6 properly, I don't see how you would find out, but I think with a God's eye view that is what I'd base my decision on (assuming utility can be properly maximised), but I think the main thing going through my mind would be number 3, so I expect I'd stay.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and unlike potentilla I would count my own boredom as important, if not necessarily important enough to make me leave.

Anonymous said...

Isn't answer #1 inevitable?

Anonymous said...

I tried to make the answers pithy and readable.

#1 is short for--"My feelings count,and only my feelings count. I wouldn't see it as a moral issue, or if I did, my morality is egocentric. What's best for me is the right thing for me to do." With that understanding of what #1 means, it's not inevitable.

If you read #1 as saying "I'll do what I decide to do" then yes, it's inevitable.

Ophelia Benson said...

About the feelings of parents versus those of kids - I think both matter, though the kids' matter more (both because they're more vulnerable and because they're the ones performing) - because I think parents' feelings are hurt by the departure of others too. And in fact parents' feelings are probably hurt vicariously as well as personally - which can add up to feeling pretty terrible. I think the questions that relate to the parents aren't about a trivial social exchange or tit for tat (not that tit for tat is trivial), they're more about empathy and generosity and basic kindness.

Anonymous said...

One point which doesn't seem to have been mentioned is the example you want to set to your kids. You want to show them that it's important in a situation like this to listen to everyone (unless it's, you know, completely awful).

As a corollary, if you just stick around for your child's performance, it suggests to your child that the other parents there are just turning up for their own children, and aren't interested in anyone else. That means there's little impetus to actually try and make their performance as good as possible: it's like you're giving the impression that it's all about genetics, as it were, and nothing to do with the nature of the performance.

Jean Kazez said...

About the "what we teach our kids" issue. I agree it's really important. I think about it whenever I do things in front of my kids.

It doesn't seem like it's of the essence, though. First you have to figure out whether it's OK or not to leave the show. Once you've figured that out, doing the right thing (whatever that is) just takes on extra importance if you're a model for your child.

Ophelia Benson said...

The more I think about it the more not okay I think it is. There's the kind of emotional energy to it that people like Jonathan Haidt talk about - perhaps even a kind of disgust. It seems such a classic kind of petty selfishness, a my kid first and your kid nowhere attitude that makes - that literally makes me wrinkle my nose: when I paused to hunt for the physical metaphor (I started to think 'my skin crawl' but that's not right) I realized my nose was in fact scrunched up.

Anonymous said...

7: I would certainly feel an obligation or duty to stay - something owed most of all to the children - but in reality whether I stayed the course or not would depend... Barring an overlong programme, oppressive heat, obvious lack of effort on the part of the kids etc I would stay. The planners of such events have a duty not to make the experience too hellish, though - 45 minutes of childrens dubious "talents" is one thing, 2 hours another.

Of course, if the standard is high enough to actually warrant attention all bets are off. I am assuming a worst-case scenario in terms of performance quality here! Plus if I felt that the kids had invested serious effort then I think I would likely stay regardless.

Incidentally, this seems to assume that the kids are free to go after their own perfs - not a circumstance I recall having encountered. When I was at school the parents always stazed to the bitter end bcs they had to wait for their sprogs anyway. Tho that is outside the scope of a thought exp I guess.



andy gilmour said...

I'm afraid I'm plumping for the pleasingly fuzzy no.6 - but mainly because I'd want to know what my older son, David, wanted to do. [ I know you disallowed pressing reasons to leave, so I'll ignore baby Matthew for now :-) ]

But as Outeast pointed out, this is the weakness of hypotheticals (and economics 'experiments' where your own money isn't on the line!). I'd love to say I'd be a fantastic person who'd want to support everyone, but contingent factors always intrude.




Anonymous said...

I think there's also a matter of politeness/awareness of feelings for the teachers who are putting on this show.

Frankly, the kids may not even notice if other people are there or not (depending on their age), and the other parents may be wishing their kids had gone first so they could leave early. But the other adults in charge have probably put in a lot of work in organizing this thing, and they deserve an audience.

Sculpin said...

I'd stay, mostly because of 3, but also a little of (8) Other.

I don't have any kids of my own, but I do remember performing in talent shows. No doubt they were incredibly tedious for the parents in the audience, but to me they were big fancy deals. I wasn't just presenting a performance; I was part of a show, and I was proud of my inclusion. If my parents had left after my performance, without some pressing reason to leave, I think I would have felt somewhat undercut. To stay through the whole show, to my mind, is in effect to say, "Yes, this event is special, and I'm proud of you for being part of it."

So I'd stay, clapping madly for the confused little dancing ladybugs or whatever. Mostly for the sake of the ladybugs' feelings, but a little for the sake of my own kid.