Seeing the best in life's challenges

Hypocrisy and the Phases of Discontent

on June 5, 2012

Hypocrisy makes me uncomfortable.  It used to make me really angry and frustrated.  Now, I’ve just accepted that it’s part of life, something that has its place, something to learn from.  But it’s still uncomfortable.  I don’t like being around it.

I just sat through a middle school graduation ceremony.  The words that were spoken were very nice.  Words about learning lessons, being honest, being a self-advocate, words about growing, words about honor.

If I knew nothing else about this school, I would have left with a really good feeling, hopeful about how we’re educating our kids.

And maybe it’s better that most of the people there today are ignorant of some of the things I know.  Ignorance is bliss, I understand that.

Here’s just one example.  I know a kid who, years ago, worked his butt off in seventh grade Geography at this school, a notoriously tough class, meant to push kids to learn to read a textbook and study on their own.  It’s one of those legendary classes everybody talks about surviving.  This kid actually did really well, and he did it all on his own.  It felt like an accomplishment and he got a lot out of that class.  Still speaks very highly of that teacher.

But I remember that there were students who were getting 100s on the tests, even at the beginning of the year.  Something just didn’t feel right.

Turns out, when another kid I know was in that class the next year, an interesting discovery was made.  Each test was EXACTLY the same test as the year before.

Turns out, the families that had older siblings at this school had quietly figured this out.

Now, some would say, that’s just how the world works, it’s every man for himself.  School is highly competitive, and you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.  I’m not so naïve that I don’t realize this is a prevalent worldview.  And I don’t even blame or condemn those who see the world this way and act on it.

I do wonder if that teacher is aware that some students figured this out.  Does it seem strange to him that some students get 100s on his tests right off the bat?  Does he just assume they are good at studying?  Does he know what’s going on, and just doesn’t care?  Maybe he thinks it is impossible that these kids would risk cheating.  But is it really cheating?  Certainly it’s unfair for some kids to have access to old tests, while others don’t, but for example, many college professors expect students to study from old tests.  But then, usually those tests aren’t exactly the same as the test that is given.  Maybe this is just part of the greater lesson, to be savvy and take any advantage you can get.  I’m sure I’ll never know all the intricacies of who knew what and when, and that really doesn’t matter to me.

It just irked me today to sit and listen to all the talk about honor and honesty, and to hear that the two kids who got all A’s in their middle school career (and obviously got A’s in Geography) are both kids who have  older siblings at the school.  Look, they are both nice kids and good students, but it just felt ironic.

My kids no longer attend this school.  It’s called voting with your feet.  We’ve moved on.

Personally, I do not tolerate hypocrisy well.  I have a very hard time with people and places that act one way, and then are very vocal about being another way.

The lesson I took away from my interactions with this school are really about how we work through situations where we are at odds with what’s going on.

I’ll call these the Phases of Discontent:

Phase I:  Get angry, frustrated, and vent about how bad it is.  This is great for emotional release, which is a very necessary and human thing to do.  We all sometimes need this (and it’s part of the reason I’m writing this today).  But this becomes a problem when a person gets stuck here and doesn’t move on.

Are you involved in situations where every time you get in a discussion about something or someone, the group just rants about how wrong it is?  Nothing brings people together like a common enemy.  That’s a good thing to be aware of.

Phase II:  Speak up and try to change things.  The world needs people who will speak up.  Maybe no one is aware of the problem, and as soon as they are, everything will change.  Maybe it’s a tough problem, maybe even more complicated than it first appears, and people will work to make improvements.   Now you are working on solutions.

But sometimes, it is clear that the “powers that be” are too invested in their current perception of the way things are.  Maybe they have no interest in change.  There are places that cannot self-question.   Places that hate whistleblowers.  You encounter resistance to your efforts at improving things.  You have hit a brick wall.

Phase III:  Move on or choose to stay anyway.  Understand the lessons you have learned.  Understand that this place/situation apparently needs to exist so that others can learn lessons from it.  Maybe the time just isn’t right yet.  Or maybe you have set changes in motion, but things will change more slowly than you can tolerate.

Know when to let go.

It’s also ok to choose to stay involved.  But be aware of what you have decided and why.  It’s your decision, and if you don’t like it, then you can change that decision!   Of course you can choose to stay, and then go right back to Phase I and complain about it if that’s what you decide to do.  Or you might just figure that the pros outweigh the cons of staying and that you just have to stick it out.

To me, this cycle is a good illustration of how we grow through situations and challenges.  In this particular case, I’m content that I have completed my lessons there.  And that’s a relief.

What do you think?

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