Scott Peck famously started a book by saying “Life is difficult” and recently I have had ample reason to believe even more in the truth of his dictum. Life has been, is now, and most likely always will be difficult. To quote another author, “So it goes”.
I have a student whose mother once taught in our school system. The mother was politely asked to resign, education-speak for ‘you’re fired’. I and the principal helped the person to get another job. Unfortunately, the mother fell apart emotionally and morally and did some lasting damage to her children; her divorce probably didn’t help. My former colleague seems to have made it her life mission to ‘pay back’ the system that asked her to leave, and her children are still attending school in that system. Last year she put us through the wringer while we tried to help her behaviorally-challenged son. I thought I would get a break this year by having her daughter back in class who was simply awesome a couple of years ago. Unfortunately the daughter has been taught to hate the system and she comes into my class each day looking for a fight. This is not a recipe for a successful classroom experience. The principal and counselor have washed their hands of the family so I am handling it in a way the I hope helps the child and protects me at the same time.
While trying to deal with student ‘A’, I was asked into the principal’s office for ‘a minute’. Seems a father who is ‘really mad’ made a complaint and threatened the dreaded ‘formal complaint’. I asked who the father was. Wouldn’t tell me. I asked what I had done. Couldn’t tell me. The principal gave me a laundry list of do’s and don’t’s, but no context. I don’t do anonymous very well. He told me he gave anonymity to ‘protect the student’ and I stated that while up to that point I had been disappointed, now I was angry at being told a student needed protection from me. I expected my principal to want the truth for his sake and mine. Instead he seemed proud he had made the problem go away. My view was that he made the problem go away by allowing the parent to anonymously complain and then walk away convinced he was right. The principal would not have cared that the girl in question had been told her behavior was terrible and that she might be sent to the office the day before her dad came in; her father probably would not have cared either. It made a difference to me to know more of the story but to have no chance to defend myself. Of course, this is a tiny town and of course I know who the father and the student are.
At least, I thought, I have a break because I have a meeting about being the pilot intern for a diocesan pastoral ministry program that would get me out of school but I am perceptive enough to suspect that it wouldn’t go well either. All things are connected…. As I returned from a break in that meeting I overheard my pastor telling two relative strangers about the limitations he faced because “people come to him and they don’t like Ed”. Life is difficult.
If people believe wrong has been done, they will hold onto that belief with a death-grip rather than admit they might be wrong, or, even harder, forgive, make allowances for the other’s human frailties, and move on with life. After a long 17 years in this tiny town I have a lot of people who think highly of me, and a lot who don’t. That is the reward of teaching and coaching in a small town. I am neither as good as some people believe, nor as evil as others believe, but I surely know which group seems to be the one that is listened to.
I think of a friend who took an administrative job, and seemingly abandoned the friends she had made who supported her climb. I think of the principal I am angry with because he took the political road instead of the moral high road, and to my mind, who sacrificed me in the process. I think of my pastor who has supported my ministerial education and efforts, but listens to the anonymous complaints of a few (at least I hope they are few, I wouldn’t know would I?) and how I seem to always have to hear how much I am disliked.
I fault all of these people on moral grounds. I fault them for concentrating on the negative and ignoring the good that I do. I wonder why they aren’t fair, and then I make a little discovery that I seem to need to discover over and over again in my life. I am treating them exactly in the same way I hate being treated.
I curse myself with the expectations that institutions and people will be better than they are, perhaps better than they can be. I fail to give them credit for the good that they do, and concentrate on their perceived shortcomings instead. This is precisely the treatment I complain of when it arrives on my doorstep. I decry the motes in other’s eyes while ignoring the planks in my own. I ask for balance while maintaining a skewed vision of the world, especially in terms of justice. I ask for mercy while denying it to others.
What I have learned, am learning, and no doubt, will have to learn over and over again is that I am no better.